From the looks of their vehicle, some U students appear to be headed to outer space. But no, the UFO-like solar-hybrid car will take them across the Australian Outback in an 1,864-mile race Oct. 6-13.
Students with the University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project will compete in the World Solar Challenge Cruiser Class, where the goal is a balance between practicality and efficiency — not just speed.
Though it’s the 11th solar car that students from the U’s College of Science and Engineering have designed and built since the early 1990s, this is the first year they’re competing in this class.
“We were thinking, you know, how cool would it be to build something that we’ve never built before?” said Neil Dencklau, team leader and mechanical engineering major.
As the focus shifted to practicality and comfort, the car named Daedalus became a two-seater, allowing for a passenger and a driver. Students will drive two six-hour shifts, then camp overnight along the course.
Comfort is relative — to previous cars that didn’t even have a seat for the driver when speed was the primary goal. There is no air conditioning and temperatures can easily top 100 degrees in the harsh environment.
“It’s a really challenging environment for an experimental car to be in,” said Dencklau.
They’ll be judged on how fast they get across the finish line, practicality and how often they have to charge the car. They’re taking it out for a test drive this weekend.
“It turns a lot of heads,” Dencklau said.
About 30 students spent an estimated 30,000 hours building the car in about 10 months. They are the only team in the race to use completely student-designed and built motors and motor controllers. Building every piece on the car lets students learn more and have a better understanding of how the car will perform, Dencklau said.
“You step outside of the classroom and you’re taking all this theory that you’re learning and then applying it to something that you’re actually going to be driving down the road in.”