Right now students at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) are making a new vehicle at the Prototype Vehicles Laboratory (PROVE Lab) that they hope will be the fastest solar-powered vehicle ever made. That means it has to top the Guinness World Record of 56.75 mph, which was set in 2014, as well as the 23.5 mph record that was set 11 years ago.
“These students aren’t competing against other universities—they’re battling the laws of physics,” said PROVE Lab's founding faculty adviser Dr. Graham Doig, who is a professor in the university’s Aerospace Engineering Department.
The students will make the attempt in June 2017 in the Mojave Desert. The car will be unique—even among the microcosmic world of solar-powered cars—since the vehicle won’t have any batteries. The solar-powered cars that race more than 1,000 miles across Australia’s outback in the World Solar Challenge, for instance, also have batteries allowing them to operate for some time even if the sun is obscured.
The Cal Poly car will only be powered by the sun. “After a year of rigorous engineering and development, we think we have a car that can exceed 65 mph,” said Will Sutton, the student project manager. In all, the team consists of more than 60 students. “We want to inspire the public to see how quickly solar power is advancing.”
“There aren’t any restrictions on the car because a speed record is all about how fast you can go over a timed mile with whatever technology is available. This means we can use Formula One-style carbon fiber composites to make the car as light and as strong as possible,” said Katie Breitenstein, a manufacturing team member.
The car has 2 kilowatts of photovoltaic cells (enough to power a hairdryer) covering its top and its body is made of composites, according to the institute. The body is light enough for two people to carry but is four times stronger than steel.
The student team designed an incredibly aerodynamic vehicle using the institute’s wind tunnel and simulation technology. It said the car has only 11 pounds of aerodynamic drag. A Ford F-150 truck traveling at 65 mph creates 10 times more drag, according to the institute.
The PROVE Lab World Record Challenge is supported by a $63,000 grant from the American Honda Foundation. The program will also engage up to 100 students in designing small-scale vehicles allowing them to learn about renewable energy and develop code for autonomous driving. The PROVE Lab also has partnered with engineering and energy companies to develop what it hopes will be the record-breaking car.Tweet