For almost five long, sizzling days, an all-star team of 17 University of Michigan students took to the Australian outback, racing a car that runs on ingenuity and sunshine. The race is the Bridgestone World Solar Car Challenge, a biennial event since 1987 where energy-efficient cars from around the world race almost 1,900 miles to push the limits of solar car innovation.
It’s the World Cup of solar car racing, and University of Michigan is a tier-one team. In 2015, the team finished 4th out of 42 teams from 20 counties.
“It is thrill to participate in such a big race with engineers from all over the world,” said Pavan Naik, an industrial and operations engineering student and the team’s manager, handling things like budget, staffing, supplies and logistics for shipping the solar car to Australia.
To build and race their solar car, it took a team of 70 University of Michigan students two years working long hours. The team had a mix of students majoring in a range of fields, including computer science, business, marketing and aerospace, mechanical and electrical engineering.
The aerodynamic, lightweight, solar-powered vehicle with souped-up computer and digital tracking technology, can reach speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. With every wheel rotation came reams of real-time data that allowed the team to make efficiency decisions they could relay to the driver.
During the race, six support cars plus a semi-trailer join Aurum on the road. The weather car, carrying the team’s meteorologist and his equipment, drives an hour ahead of Aurum and the rest of the crew so it can gauge wind direction and speed, cloud cover and other conditions. Behind it, the scout team keeps the road clear of roadkill and debris.
His team’s car, named Aurum, finished behind teams from the Netherlands and Japan, but there was a lot to celebrate.
“We’ve built a car faster than any other University of Michigan team,” he said, and the results bodes well for the future of both solar car racing and the advancement of energy-efficient vehicle research.