Michigan State University is very proud of its Solar Racing Team, and they want everyone to know about the team’s accomplishments this year. In a time when automakers are all going electric, college racing teams are still trying to push the limits of technology (which may end up in future cars) and gain valuable experience that can score team members a job in the EV industry.
“It’s a great sense of pride,” John Papapolymerou, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, told MSU Today. “I couldn’t be any prouder of all of them. It’s a testament to what Spartan engineers can do and will do and will continue to do.”
Their current electric racing vehicle, called Aurora, has 326 solar cells that charge a 13 kWh battery pack. It can only go 68 miles per hour, but they only rarely go that fast. Why? Because the car’s battery can only take it 200 miles at 30 MPH. That’s impressive for only 13 kWh of storage, but it’s also helped by getting extra power from the sun to go faster during a day.
But unlike enthusiast car builds, the purpose of Aurora isn’t to go super fast or be the best solar vehicle in the world. It exists for the students. “What we’re doing right now is going to be the future of the automotive industry. The students that come onto our team are going to be experts early on in electrification,” said Julia O’Mara, MSU Solar Racing Team program director and 2022 graduate of the College of Engineering.
And it’s working. O’Mara already has a job lined up at Ford this fall and she’s going to work on drivetrain development. The solar racing program and working on Aurora itself gave her the opportunity to prepare for that line of work, and it probably wasn’t bad for her resume when it came time to look for jobs working on electric vehicles.
The article goes on to tell us about other students who now have successful careers at other companies, like General Motors.
However, this doesn’t mean the team doesn’t take both competition and fun seriously. The team regularly competes at the Formula Sun Grand Prix, an annual solar race. That race is on closed-loop tracks, but it serves as a qualifier for a long-distance solar race later, the American Solar Challenge. That event will be held in July and go from Independence, Missouri (just outside Kansas City), and end in Twin Falls, Idaho.
This year’s event theme is “Solar Cars Taking On The Oregon Trail,” referring to the old route that settlers and people seeking adventure and fortune took in the nineteenth century. Missouri was a common starting and equipment/supply point for people headed west, so it makes a lot of sense to start the event there this year. The event will have a single occupant class and a multi-occupant class, giving more practical designs a chance to win at the event.
It’s great to see that these solar challenges aren’t just dominated by wildly impractical skateboard-looking cars, and that’s going to help push both students and the industry forward.
Featured image by Michigan State University.
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