Solar car teams have been around since at least the 1970’s, and individuals with a variety of backgrounds come together to contribute their expertise to the process of building the best solar car. Solar car teams have become a staple for many engineering colleges, and college students everywhere are eager to join the team.
Solar car teams may be arranged in a number of ways, but they frequently have sponsors to help offset the cost of expensive new technology, and materials. Students typically engage in raising awareness about solar cars, while also showing off their designs and sharing hard-gained knowledge.
Solar Car Teams
Solar car teams are much more common today than they were when they started out in the 1970’s. With better technology becoming available at a consistent rate, innovative designs, and more capable solar cars are possible when built by a team.
Solar car teams do not have a set number of members and can vary in size. Many colleges across the world have excellent solar car teams that are able to enter multiple competitions each year if they wish.
Occasionally a business corporation will also enter a competition in an effort to utilize their technology or gain exposure for a project. While this does not happen often, these teams can be very well funded and may have more engineering experience than younger teams.
Collegiate solar car teams are frequently mentored and assisted by faculty members who help to guide students through the rigorous process of designing and building a solar car. Once the solar car is built there are also the many hurdles to overcome before they are allowed to compete in a solar car race.
The University of Michigan Solar Car Team is one of many collegiate teams that have participated in solar car races across the globe. In 2017 the University of Michigan Solar Car Team came in second during the 2017 World Solar Challenge race held in Australia.
The process of entering the Australian solar car race took the University of Michigan Solar Car Team approximately one year of preparations where they had to submit design reports, specifications, testing results, and other materials for review before being allowed to compete.
Solar Car Teams in Michigan
There are several solar car teams in Michigan and many of them are part of colleges across the state. Frequently these teams are filled with engineering students seeking their degree while also looking for hands-on experience and a fun social activity that offers great challenges.
There’s no limit on how large or small teams can be, but having several members allows teams to achieve more within a set amount of time. Since preparing for a solar car race can mean months of work, and thousands of hours of detailed problem solving, having many capable minds can be an advantage.
The conditions in Michigan can vary and Michigan solar car teams can face many challenges as they test their designs on the road. Solar car teams preparing for a race that lasts a thousand miles or more also require that their solar car be able to race in different weather conditions.
Michigan solar car teams are fortunate that the weather conditions in Michigan are known for changing rapidly and therefore can offer conditions for a variety of weather-related tests in just a few months.
While there are not great elevation changes in Michigan, there are a few moderate sized hills and other features that can help solar car teams test their design. Michigan can be quite cold in the winter, and fairly hot in the summer. There can also be wind gusts and rainstorms that arrive with little warning.
These elements add to the challenge as rough terrain, small mountains, and flat pavement are all readily available for solar car tests. Solar car teams may also go to test tracks commonly used to test conventional gasoline-powered cars, or even attempt to maneuver around parts of campus.
University Of Michigan Solar Car Team
The University of Michigan Solar Car Team is entirely student-run, and they recently came in second during a solar car race in Australia in 2017. Their team is broken into four categories which allow them to blend together students with different backgrounds and create a strong, well-rounded team.
All of the students play their part as members of the team working towards the overall goal of building the best solar car possible. Since the University of Michigan Solar Car Team began in 1990, the students have built a total of 14 solar vehicles.
Their participation and performance in several solar car races have been impressive, with nine wins in the American Solar Challenge. Prior to their second-place finish in the World Solar Challenge in Australia, the team also managed to win third place a total of five times.
Their first international victory was at the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge in 2015, and their sponsors include large corporations such as Ford, GM, and Siemens. The team plans to enter the American Solar Challenge again in 2018.
The current car created by the students of the University of Michigan Solar Car Team has been named Novum. At just 550 pounds, the Novum is 20% more efficient than the previous design. The Novum has a carbon fiber chassis, and four 16” rimmed wheels.
At just a meter wide, the Novum is also 43% narrower than its predecessor, and future design tweaks focus on better aerodynamics, improved suspension, and more efficient collection of solar energy.
The unconventionally skinny design of the Novum made it a risky decision for the 2017 solar car team. Traditionally, solar cars are built with the largest solar array possible, even if it means sacrificing some aerodynamic efficiency.
To this day the Novum is the smallest and lightest solar car ever created by the University of Michigan Solar Car Team, and the risky design resulted in a win for them in 2017. The team is hopeful that their risk will help to bring about a new design and different ideas about how solar cars can be built.
The skinny hulled Novum is very different from the other cars that it competed against in 2017 and students are eager to test it in America in the upcoming 2018 race. The highly efficient solar array used on the Novum is also new, and the smaller size was another calculated risk taken by the team.
Several sponsors contribute monetarily in order to help aid the success of the University of Michigan Solar Car Team. New technology such as highly efficient solar panels and carbon fiber chassis can be extremely costly, and funding solar cars year after year can compound the cost.
The University of Michigan offers several sources of funding to the student team from the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost, and the University of Michigan School of Engineering. The solar car team is also fortunate to have an array of sponsors that specialize in creating various components needed to build solar cars.
Michigan State Solar Car Team
The Michigan State Solar Car Team has around 60 members and a new team of leadership for 2018. This student-run project is similar to the solar car team at the University of Michigan.
In late 2017, the Michigan State Solar Car Team began to design and build their latest solar car after a few years of working with their previous design, Leonidas. Leonidas appeared at the International Auto Show in Detroit in early 2018 for a few weeks where visitors, friends, and family could view what the solar car team had so diligently worked on.
Many individuals have not seen a solar car in person and up close, so excitement was high while Leonidas was on display. Thousands of visitors were present to view Leonidas and the team posted on their blog how beneficial the exposure was for their team.
Team members were very excited to discuss their project with visitors who were interested, and they hope that displaying Leonidas will bring in new sponsors as they gear up for their next solar car build. The team was also excited to spread awareness of STEM education, and solar car technology.
During the summer of 2017, the Michigan State Solar Car Team, or MSU SRT for short, had the opportunity to compete in the Formula Sun Grand Prix which took place in Austin, Texas. Although they suffered equipment failure with their battery management system and driver control system, they were able to concoct a repair that allowed them to continue the race.
Once repaired and inspected, Leonidas was able to take its first lap around the track at the Circuit of the Americas. With only ten minutes left in the event after the repair, the team had overcome quite an obstacle and strategized afterward on how they could best continue to strengthen their team.
Their solution for the upcoming year was to bring back core members of the team while also expanding their membership with new recruits who could contribute their valuable backgrounds to the cause. Their emphasis on creating strong individual sub-teams has also led their whole team to become stronger.