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This past weekend Centaurus III and a crew of twenty U of M students journeyed from our workshop in St.Paul Minnesota to Hayward, Wisconsin. We spent the night in Hayward and drove Centaurus back to the cities the next day. With 150 miles completed in both directions, the team had substantial opportunity to gather data on the suspension and electrical performance of the vehicle. In addition to this, there were only six members on the drive who had been on the race. This made it difficult and rewarding to drive the solar car in caravan.
The team met at 7:00 am on Saturday morning, an early start for everyone. We prepared everything to leave at 9:00. However, our trailer suffered a fatal injury – its back door hinges had rusted off, making it unusable. We would like to thank the U of M Formula SAE team for the use of their trailer on this trip – we would not have been able to leave as early as we wanted without their assistance. Once the solar car, lead vehicle, chase vehicle, and trailer were ready to head out we went over safety procedures for stopping on the side of the road.
We drove smoothly until mid-day, when we stopped in a parking lot for mid-day charging and lunch. This was a mock control stop – and we impounded our battery for about ½ hour in the middle of the lunch hour. We ate sandwiches and clementines for lunch, and then continued on our way with everyone in new race crew positions. Minnesota experienced a small cold snap, so the solar car drivers were chilly on this drive. Our solar car lacks both a cooling and a heating system! We even taped over part of the battery ventilation ducts to keep our batteries warmer, as they perform better at medium temperatures.
We arrived just in time to charge for about ½ hour at our teammate’s cabin in Hayward before the sun lowered beneath the trees. We cooked ourselves a hot dinner of burgers, brats, and stir-fry. Unfortunately, we forgot to buy ketchup and mustard for the journey. Next time, we will remember. After dinner, half of the team sat around the fire and roasted s’mores while the other half played a board game in the cabin.
In the morning, we rose before the sun and set up Centaurs III to get a good morning charge. We fueled all of our support vehicles and began the drive home. We stopped again for lunch at mid-day. It was a good lunch, this time sandwiches, clementines, and chips! In the afternoon, we had to stop and fix some electrical problems in our battery pack. Afterwards, we drove Centaurs III back home and packed up for the night. Overall, it was a great opportunity to learn about our car and teach our new members what solar racing is all about. Building off of our past designs is one of the ways our team improves our performance year to year. As we jump into our next build cycle, a cruiser class car to compete in the World Solar Challenge 2015, we have a strong background and will strive to improve our performance.
The University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project brought Centaurus III to display at the State Capitol Mall with more than 100 other plug-in vehicles this past weekend. The event, sponsored by Plug In America, the Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association featured green vehicles ranging from a modified mustang to the Tesla Model S. The event was open to the public and many visitors came to ask us questions about our vehicle.
The sense of community at the event was great – everyone was filled with enthusiasm for renewable energy sources and changing our lives to conserve the environment. Solar vehicles fit into this vision. However, stagnating battery and solar cell technologies are impeding the development of all electrical cars and preventing leaps in solar electric vehicle technology. Our team participated in the World Solar Challenge 2013 with a two-passenger vehicle, Daedalus, and plans on participating in the World Solar Challenge 2015 with another cruiser class vehicle. We are tacking an enormous engineering challenge – how can you make a vehicle as efficient as possible while still being comfortable to ride and safe for the drivers?
In the future, solar vehicles will likely be used as commuter vehicles. The basic idea is that you would use power driving to work, replenish the power by charging the car in the parking lot while you are working, and then drive home with that saved energy. If there is a cloudy day, you would simply plug in your solar electric vehicle so that you can drive to work the next day. Through improvements in battery technology and solar cells, solar vehicles may be commonplace for younger generations. However, they stand out today – even among other electric vehicles.
After 8 days of rising with the sun, we finished the American Solar Challenge in second place, on our home campus. Go Gophers! The final day of the race was a shorter stage, beginning in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and ending in the Victory parking lot at the University of Minnesota. We were in a close race for first place with the University of Michigan, but ultimately came in second due to two minor breakdowns on the road. In third place was our neighbor to the south, PrISUm, from Iowa State University!
Overall, eight teams successfully finished the American Solar Challenge, which was 1700 miles from Austin to Minneapolis. Eight cars traveled 1700 miles only on the power of the sun. Just pause for a second and think about what that means. Think about what it feels like to run five miles, how much energy you have to use, and what kind of appetite you have afterwards. The sun is powerful, and it is truly incredible how these teams have managed to capture its power on a moving, blinking, honking vehicle.
Seeing each team running next to their vehicle as they crossed the finish line and the smiles on every face was incredible. There was a large amount of cheering and clapping for each team, but ours received an especially warm welcome as family members and alumni alike crowded around our car as we had our post-race inspection. Once every team was in, all of the cars were lined up for the spectators to see and the teams mingled and traded race-crew shirts.
After that warm welcome, there was a banquet for the teams in the DQ room in TCF stadium. Everyone was treated to a hearty meal of tacos with chips and salsa. Once everyone had eaten, the final awards were given out. The places first through third, as stated before, were the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and Iowa State University. Next the inspectors who ran scruitineering gave out awards for safety, teamwork, mechanical reliability, and the safest battery pack. Last, but not least, the observers gave out awards to each team. The observers kept a close eye on each team in the race, since they lived with us each leg of the race.
They gave us a set of silverware so that we could spread jelly in our chase van on future races. We didn’t have any silverware on the race, because our silverware got soot on it during FSGP and was thrown out. The observers observed us squeezing jelly from non-squeezable jelly jars onto our sandwiches. Thank you! Now we can spread jelly!
My favorite observer award was the one for Western Michigan University. The observers noted that they had creative race crew positions on their badges, such as “Telemetry Telepath.” However, there was one name they were concerned about, the name was something like “Rubber Tire Streaker” and the observers gave the team member in question a badge without the word “Streaker” in it because they didn’t want to see that.
After the awards event, the teams separated looking forward to expanding the support of solar racing in future years. Our team is planning on attending FSGP 2015 in preparation for WSC 2015. We wish every team luck and sunny skys as they drive home and continue working on solar vehicles.
Today we would like to thank the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering and all of our Alumni who have supported us with either sponsorships or knowledge. The College of Science and Engineering provides us with a work space and funding to ensure that the project continues to provide unlimited learning opportunities to students at the U. As for our Alumni, thank you especially to Sam Lenius, Johathan Nutzmann, Brett Paulson, Adem Rudin, Tyler Coffey, Dan Vogl, and Jonathan Olson. It was nice to see some of you at the finish line, and thank you for continuing to fail the 12 step program.
One final thank-you is needed to all of the officials, observers, and scruitineers that made this race possible. This would not be possible without you, excellent job keeping us safe and having fun during FSGP and ASC!
Thank you for reading our blog, and wish us luck as we enter the design/build process for our next solar vehicle!
Our team poses with Goldy after finishing the race.
Our team poses with Goldy after finishing the race.