Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

ECE News Story

Solar Car Momentum Wins the Race

U-M’s solar car race team, and their car Momentum, took first place in the 2005 North American Solar Car Challenge July 27, 2005. Michigan has competed eight times, and earned four National Championships since the inception of the race in 1990, more than any other competing University.

The solar cars began the race July 17 in Austin, TX and ended July 25 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, a new route for the American Solar Car Challenge, and at 2,500 miles, the longest in its history. With the lead time at 53 hours, 59 minutes, and 43 seconds, only 11 minutes and 52 seconds separated Michigan and the second place team, U. of Minnesota.

The Solar Car Challenge is a race of engineering mastery, strategy and some luck, as racers and their teams adjust to clouds, wind, and rain, equipment malfunctions, border checks, and even stop lights. Michigan started strong this year, in first place after 2 days, only to be socked by cloudy weather the third day – depleting their battery and their lead. They made a dramatic comeback on day 8 of the race. Facing intense head winds, Momentum’s aerodynamic design and race strategy helped it gain 19 minutes on Minnesota’s car. The next day would give the lighter cars an advantage as they faced mountain climbs – however, despite having one of the heavier cars, U-M’s overall design and engineering kept it in first place. Momentum set a record for average speed during the race, 46.2 miles per hour.

Every two years the North American Solar Challenge brings together cars built by student teams all over the country to compete in a cross country race, using nothing but the sun’s rays as power.

To quote Richard King, U.S. Department of Energy, who provided commentary for the race, “What these teams are proving out here is that solar electricity really works and energy efficiency pays off. Considering the consequences of billions of people around the world burning fossil fuels at an ever-growing rate, demonstrating technologies that can make a difference is significant.”

Of the 21 members of the race crew, seven are EECS students: Mirai Aki, Jonathan Brown, Jeff Ferman, David Masselink, David Mazur, Brent Schwartz, and Robert Vogt. Vogt, Head Strategist and the only EECS graduate student on the team, is a four year veteran of the team who also runs a web hosting/consulting company, ArborHost, and has a patent in Signal/Image Processing. Learn more about all the team members on the Solar Car webpage at: http://www.engin.umich.edu/solarcar/aboutus/racecrew.html

EECS Prof. Brian Gilchrist, faculty co-advisor to the Solar Car team, and his son were on hand to witness the race. Prof. Gilchrist said, “I am very proud of what the team accomplished, but even more so of what they learned! Over two years some 100+ students have been able to experience what it takes to develop a complete system from beginning to end! This is experience that would take years to obtain in industry.”

The Solar Car team has earned the opportunity to participate in the 8th World Solar Challenge, Sept. 25 – Oct. 2, 2005 in Australia.