A group of students from the University of Michigan (UM) have won the school’s sixth consecutive American Solar Challenge (ASC) – an automotive endurance competition and to design, build and race solar-powered cars across the country for 1500-2000 miles depending on the competition route. Teams often have to get creative in solving issues along the way since there aren’t as many resources on the side of a highway as there are at the race track.
The event is typically held every other year during the summer and is open to collegiate level solar car teams from countries all over the world. The winner of ASC is determined by the total elapsed time to complete the race route.
According to Shihaab Punia, UM team leader, “Out of all the teams, we were the only ones that went entire race on solar power alone.” However, they compensated for a lack of power through mechanical systems optimized for weight reduction and an increase in overall robustness. The car, known as Aurum, was made with a carbon fiber monocoque, which kept its overall weight to just 440 pounds and added strength in turbulent weather.
Perhaps making the victory even more impressive is the fact the team started each day of the 8-day race with a six minute penalty due to the car not meeting American race regulations. The car was originally designed for the World Solar Challenge in Australia.
While the UM might have been the only car to rely solely on solar power, they were far from the only team to rely on composites. Out of the 12 teams that finished the race, 7 teams (including each of the top 5 finishers) featured cars with a CFRP chassis. Some teams, such as second place finisher Dunwoody College of Technology, also featured CFRP wheels.