U of M Solar Car Finishes Second in Cross-Country Race
The University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project (UMNSVP) is an organization of undergraduate engineering students who undertake the project of researching, designing, and constructing a solar vehicle every two years. This year, the University of Minnesota team and their car - Centaurus III - competed in the American Solar Challenge (ASC), finishing second overall.
The American Solar Challenge is a multi-day, 1200-1800 mile cross-country road race across North America. The event is typically held every other year during the summer and is open to solar car teams from countries all over the world. This year, the ASC consisted of an eight-day, 1,700-mile race that started in Austin, Texas on July 21 and ended at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis on July 28.
"I'm really proud of our team," said Bryan Dean, the University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project team leader and a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. "It was also great ending the race at home on the University of Minnesota campus and seeing all of our supporters cheering for us. That was really a lot of fun."
The competition requires that teams first design and build a solar powered vehicle that meets every requirement set forth in the regulations. When teams arrive on site for the event, their first task is to pass Scrutineering inspections where race officials closely inspect every aspect of their vehicle to ensure full compliance with the regulations. Cars that pass Scrutineering move on to the Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP) track race, where they must complete a pre-determined number of laps with multiple drivers to qualify for ASC.
Teams that make it safely this far have proved their solar cars are ready to attempt the cross-country journey. However, ASC presents a whole new set of challenges than FSGP and requires strategy to be adjusted accordingly. The mix of city and highway driving on public roads of varying conditions makes careful energy management critical. As with FSGP, teams must carefully monitor weather patterns and adjust driving strategy accordingly, however the longer duration of the race makes it more likely that a wide range of weather conditions will be encountered. Teams must also ensure that they follow the race route precisely and obey all the rules of the road or they risk costly time penalties. ASC is intended to test the reliability and endurance of all solar car systems. Teams often have to get creative in solving issues along the way since there aren't as many resources on the side of a highway as there are at the race track.
The winner of ASC is determined by the total elapsed time to complete the race route. The U of M's team - made up of students from the College of Science & Engineering - finished with a total elapsed time of 45 hours, 19 minutes, and 9 seconds over the eight days. First-place University of Michigan finished the race in 41 hours, 27 minutes and 29 seconds. Third place Iowa State University finished with a time of 50 hours, 18 minutes and 46 seconds.
Materials for the U of M's solar car were funded through cash donations and in-kind donations of parts and materials. In addition to the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering, major sponsors of the University of Minnesota's solar car include 3M, Altium, ANSYS, Cirrus Aircraft, Delta Airlines, IAR Systems, PAR Systems, PTC, Segger and SunPower.