The University of Calgary solar car project is coming up to speed, and heading Down Under for the 2007 World Solar Challenge. This year's car--the Schulich 1--will be shipped Friday, but the big race won't start until Oct. 21. Over the past two years the team has been hard at work preparing a completely new car for the 3,000 km route across the Australian continent--from Darwin to Adelaide.
"We've got a good team," said business manager Adam Berti. "We've got a quality car that should race fairly well."
Considering the first place in its class finish at the 2005 challenge, confidence is to be expected. This year, however, the competition will be a little stiffer, as the U of C team chose to move up from production to open class, putting them against the most competitive and expensive cars in the running. Previously, the team was limited by both budget and regulations as to what technology they were allowed to use. This year, they went all out with a budget somewhere in the area of three quarters of a million dollars.
"We bought the same sort of cells that they put on the space station," said Berti.
The triple gallium arsenide cells they're using are much more energy-efficient than older model solar cells. Other changes were made to comply with regulations, such as making sure the driver sits upright; a restriction that caused the car's original plan to be abandoned.
"We had to scrap the plan and go with a faster, more modern design," explained team member Ravi Mani. "[We] have been working like crazy to get it done, and now its done--but it took a lot of work."
That work wasn't just engineering, but also designing, marketing and fundraising. The team members took the initiative to gather funds from various corporations and foundations, and their dollars were matched by both the U of C and the Schulich school of engineering.
"We're extraordinarily proud of them," praised the team's relations and communications director Allison Mackenzie. "This is truly a project for the journey. It's not about whether they win or lose, it's about the journey to get there."
Continued support from the university is what makes this project one for the distance, with its wealth of opportunity for experiential learning.
"Performance at the university is the process itself," affirmed Berti.
In the end, the team is not only on the quest to replacing an ecological footprint with tire tracks in the Australian dust--the U of C solar car team is out there to win this time around--or at least do really, really well.
"We learned about what we need to do, and what goals and bars we need to set in order to come out to challenge these other teams," explained Mani, with an enthusiastic grin. "We're trying to go for top five."