A solar-powered auto-rickshaw is set to reach the UK today after a 10,000km journey, which started in India’s Bangalore in February.
The Tejas tuk tuk (the name means radiance in Sanskrit) is a modified Piaggo Ape pick-up, rebuilt in a garage by automotive engineer and renewable energy enthusiast Naveen Rabelli and his friends.
“We wanted to prove that a person like me, sitting in a garage with not too many resources can think of such a project and make it a reality," said 35-year old Naveen, who has been driving the vehicle on the challenging journey. “It is purely made in India. We wanted this project to be a prototype that we can scale up.”
In a video on the project’s website, he describes the improvised conditions in which he and his friends made his dream a reality. They have been working on the project since 2014. The original inspiration came when Rabelli was stuck in a traffic jam, surrounded by noisy and polluting tuk tuks.
“It is quite important for us to create awareness because whenever I ride my vehicle around in India, there is a lack of awareness that such a solar-powered vehicle could be possible,” said Rabelli. “That's the first mind block that we need to address - to show that a solar-powered vehicle can run as efficiently as a conventional fuel vehicle.”
With a top speed of 40 km/h and a load capacity of 500kg, Rabelli says his vehicle can compete with a conventional Piaggo Ape. The range per charge is 84 km.
Rabelli hoped he would make it from Bangalore to London in 100 days but was delayed in France after his documents were stolen at a petrol station. During his journey, which led through Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and France, he has travelled on average 60 km per day.
Rabelli is reaching Dover on Monday on a ferry. He hopes to end his journey in front of the Buckingham Palace.
"My family is very proud of it and have been continuously supporting from day one,” he said before the final leg. “My friends, too, have given me a lot of emotional support during the making of the project."
During his journey, he was relying on basic equipment of the vehicles, including a bed, a cupboard with food donated by people, and a solar-powered cooker.
He has had to adjust to living on the road, including bathing in lakes, rivers and even at police stations, while relying largely on food handouts.