The University of Michigan’s (U-M) solar car, called the Generation, is a strange beast. A curved, asymmetrically lopsided vehicle that looks more like a motorcycle with a sidecar, the car’s solar panel makes it look like a solar flying carpet on wheels. Even so, the design team is convinced that the Generation is exceptionally well poised to finally win this year’s Bridgestone World Solar Challenge – a weeklong, 1,800 mile endurance race for solar-powered cars.
The Generation is the latest solar car the U-M team has created in the long tradition of solar races. The car weighs less than 600 pounds and has a lithium-ion battery. Other than the driver’s seat and wheels, the whole vehicle is essentially a flat sheet that hovers high off the ground giving the car a leaner underbelly and a more aerodynamic silhouette.
For the past quarter century, the U-M team has participated in the World Solar Challenge only to come up short with five third place wins. But with new regulations to build a four-wheel vehicle and a more upright driver, Eric Hausman, team project manager, believes that the U-M team has come up with the optimal aerodynamic and engineering design that will finally deliver the gold trophy they’ve been chasing for so long.
The World Solar Challenge is a biannual competition that pits 26 teams against each other in an endurance race of sun-beating sweat, sheer determination, and good energy management. In the afternoon of October 5, 2013, solar car drivers will begin their weeklong PV-fueled 1,800 mile trek across a desert in the Australian outback.