Solar challenge rolls at driest desert

The Atacama Solar Challenge winning car in 2011.
The Atacama Solar Challenge winning car in 2011.

The second annual Solar Challenge has begun in Chile's Atacama desert, where 15 solar-powered cars rolled out of an old salt mine.

The solar-powered prototypes will travel more than 1300km through the world's driest desert in the four-day, multinational race.

There are two categories: cars powered only by solar energy, and three-wheeled models that get a little help from pedals pushed by the drivers themselves.

The cars had to be built for less than US$7000 (NZ$8400), forcing their makers to be creative more than wealthy. Most of the teams represent university engineering departments.

The big finish comes Monday, and the winners get prizes of US$30,000 (NZ$36,000) in the solar category and US$9000 (NZ$10,800) in the hybrid category.

AP