Students from California Polytechnic State University’s Prototype Vehicles Laboratory (PROVE Lab) have designed a car to break the international land speed record for solar vehicles. The team consists of 70 students from 11 different majors. The engineering team is complemented by business/marketing, media and education teams.

The team intends to break the record of 23.5 mph and the more recent Guinness World Record of 56.75 mph. The record attempt is scheduled for June 2017 in the Mojave Desert.

The students will attempt the break the record in a vehicle essentially made from scratch, which has never been done before. In order to make the vehicle aerodynamic, the students are using composites.

“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,” says Katie Breitenstein, a manufacturing team member for the vehicle. “This means we can use Formula One-style carbon fiber composites to make the car as light and as strong as possible.”

According to Cal Poly, the composite body is so lightweight that two people can pick up and carry the vehicle, yet the material is four times stronger than steel. The result is one of the most aerodynamic vehicles ever designed. Cal Poly says that thanks to its composite shell, the car experiences just 11 pounds of aerodynamic drag – 10 times less than a Ford F-150 at the same speed. The vehicle gains strength from its chassis, made with carbon fiber sandwich panels.

The PROVE team also cites the vehicle’s commercial-grade solar cells as a major contributor to its speed.

“These cells are just like the ones you can get on your roof, and they’re making this car fast enough to get a speeding ticket on the freeway,” said Christiana Ushana, a member of the software engineering team.

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