Solar car getting up to speed

Publish Date: 03/11/1993
Mary Mussell
Staff Reporter

Two years of design, planning and hard work is finally coming together for some Institute of Technology students who plan to race a solar car from Dallas to Minneapolis in June.

The first hurdle is getting the $127,000 car built in time for the April 10 qualifying race in Indianapolis. This is no small job because the 15 to 20 engineering students have plenty of work to do.

Most of the car's 1,672 solar cells still need some precise soldering.

And the 22-foot-long outer mold for the car sits in a Northwest Airlines building while a few of the mechanical details are still being worked out.

``Time is tight,'' said mechanical engineering senior Brad Schulz. ``But we can still make our April qualifier.''

Time isn't the only concern of the students, according to electrical engineering junior John Anderson.

``We still need to raise $10,000 to get to the qualifier,'' he said.

Schulz and other students have been working 40 hours a week since winter break to make sure the 700-pound car, the Aurora, is ready to compete with solar car entries from 35 other colleges and universities.

The scope of the project is the largest ever attempted by a group of IT students, said Professor Virgil Marple, faculty adviser for the two-year-old program.

Unlike many of the other entries, the Aurora was completely conceived and designed by students, said Schulz.

If the Aurora can travel 50 miles in just under 2 hours it will qualify for Sunrayce '93, a 1,000-mile cross-country race from Dallas to Minneapolis, said Anderson.

The winner of Sunrayce '93 gets $1,000 and will be sponsored in the world competition in October.

The prize money was not the reason students organized the project, said Schulz. It was a desire to get practical experience.

``IT is a theoretical institution that does high-level research,'' said Schulz. ``It's not known for practical application.''

``We wanted to prove we could also design things,'' he said.

Much of the money to design, test and build the Aurora came from in-kind donations, said Anderson.

In other words, companies donated materials, or services directly. Northwest Airlines, for example, donated its facilities to build the outer aerodynamic mold for the car, and an oven to cure composite materials used in the mold, said Anderson.

When the students' design was accepted in February 1992 by the Sunrayce committee, both the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency contributed $2,000 each as seed money, said Anderson.

Relying on solar radiation as its only source of external power, the car will carry one passenger who -- to sit comfortably -- can be no taller than 5 feet 10 inches, said IT student Tim Timmerman.

The Aurora will have an electric motor the size of a golf-cart motor and be propelled by the power required to run a hair dryer, said Schulz.