Solar car racing is not for the faint of heart. Especially when designing and preparing the vehicle for maximum performance in racing is part of the equation. That’s what makes the achievements of the Michigan Solar Car Team all the more impressive.
For decades the Michigan Solar Car Team has worked tirelessly to maintain its legend of superior design and performance of their entries into competition in both national and world events.
Legacy of the Michigan Solar Car Team
Going back to 1990, the team has been dedicated to designing, constructing, and racing the best solar-powered cars in America. Not only are the vehicles leading the way in technology and performance, they produce results that make the team stand out as America’s number one team with impressive credentials:
- 6 consecutive national championships
- 5 world finishes in the top 3
- 1 international championship – Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge in 2015
University of Michigan Solar Car
Novum (Latin word for “new thing”), the aptly-named solar car built by the team for their 2017 project, is a technological marvel. As the narrowest vehicle made by the team – 43% narrower than the team’s last creation – it is also estimated to be 20% more efficient. Novum is the team’s 14th solar car, and represents a new approach in design and engineering, led by the team’s engineering director Clayton Daily, an undergraduate student in mechanical engineering at the university.
Novum demonstrated the expertise and commitment of the engineering team, crew, and race team by finishing 2nd in its class in the World Solar Challenge in Australia this fall.
Development, design, and testing are all made possible by the dedication of the Michigan Solar Car Team members:
- Students – 70 students dedicated to success of the vehicle and the team
- Participation by a wide variety of talents and educational diversity
- Race crew – 17 team members focused on testing and racing Novum across the Australian outback
Team members have a diverse mix of experience and expertise in a wide array of backgrounds and majors:
- Industrial and Operations Engineering
- Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering
- Aerospace Engineering
- Business administration
- Mechanical engineering
- Electrical engineering
- Computer science engineering
What Makes the Team Successful
Success of the Michigan Solar Car Team would not be possible without the participation and commitment of others:
- University alumni
- Michigan Engineering
- Corporate sponsors – including Platinum sponsors:
- General Motors
How the University of Michigan Team Stands Out
Michigan Solar Car Team talents include commitment to finding the best technology and designs that will bring an advantage to their solar car creations.
A perfect example:
switching from silicon solar cells to multijunction gallium arsenide solar cells increases electrical efficiency (35% vs. silicon’s 20%). Since gallium arrays have improved in technology significantly since they were last utilized, Novum‘s design takes full advantage of the increase in efficiency.
Eric Brown, array engineer for the team, explained that these gallium cells are “costly to manufacture, and found in places where space is at a premium but you need a lot of energy.” This of course makes them ideal for competitive solar car racing.
Challenges of Solar Car Racing
Collaboration from every member of the team, faculty advisors, alumni, and corporate sponsors is essential to address the many challenges of designing and racing such a technological vehicle:
Since the underlying technology of the vehicle is electrical, the design and monitoring of electrical systems is critical to performance and durability of a solar car. Choice and design of the electric motor that powers the solar car are decisions that will determine the vehicle’s success in competition.
Materials used in construction are also critical to endurance, weight, and speed. This includes everything from frame materials to the number of wheels and suspension construction. Operational considerations also come into play, as an efficient vehicle that is difficult to operate and control is not likely to win races.
Obviously the selection, efficiency, and placement of solar panels are key to the performance of any solar vehicle. This is escalated exponentially when designing and building a solar car for competition – especially within such an accomplished team as the Michigan Solar Car Team.
Novum design teams considered a great number of attributes for the new project when creating their innovative design for this vehicle. Comparing past vehicles and trying new approaches in width and length were key in the final design. Testing included wind tunnel exposure to ensure the final design was capable of performing in the conditions typical of the Australian outback.
Wind drag is a critical element of race performance for solar cars, making aerodynamics one of the most important functional design criteria.
Design teams must be cognizant of additional features of the vehicle:
- Mass – overall weight adds to other considerations such as braking equipment weight and efficiency
- Resistance – motion resistance due to wheel and tire construction all come into play when a solar vehicle is destined for race completion. Race team members must also pay close attention to every detail, including proper wheel alignment and tire inflation to minimize resistance.
A Commitment to Excellence
University of Michigan’s Solar Car Team continues to define dedication to designing, building, and operating high-performance solar vehicles for competitive racing.