the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

2010 American Solar Challenge

Posted by Jeff Id on June 26, 2010

The 2010 American solar challenge just drove past my house.  A 2500 mile, multi-leg race for solar powered cars.  Back in college my alma-mater, WMU, was participating in this race.  It’s good to see them still at it.   The race is a 100% solar powered car, our school as usual is far less funded than larger universities like U of M, which receives the best cells, batteries and motors.  U of M is from Michigan though and my uncle was Dean of Housing or something there when I was a kid so it’s great to see them doing so well.

On the way back from the gas station I passed U of M, a second car was close behind which I didn’t catch the name on and Stanford was a close third.  Since this is the last day of the race, it looks like U of M will take top spot. I stood out in the sun with my wife and oldest son watching the cars race by for an hour.

The U of M car is below, it looked pretty sweet ripping along at about 55 mph, they weren’t holding traffic up at all.

How about Hochschule-Bochum’s entry


Most cars took the profile of the Stanford version.  Flat but slightly thickened with covers over wheels to reduce drag and a bubble for the driver.

WMU has taken that approach this time, when I was in school – graduated in the early 90’s – they were using more of a teardrop shape.

See all the cars here.

I did most of my learning in the optics lab while in college.  In fact, looking back, classes didn’t amount to much for me.  I can recall going weeks in the lab skipping the majority of my classes to study whatever was fun at the moment.  However, these sorts of extracurricular activities were some of the coolest things going on.  Most students take them for their resume’s, a few just can’t resist them.  Back then, I was having more fun than anyone had a right to.  A lot of it was in a lab.  I didn’t work on the solar car other than a few conversations with the team members, although I did participate in a saturn hybrid car build – that was fun too.

Anyway, it was such an awesome surprise to see these cars ripping down the road.  They are much better than they used to be, but will probably never replace real cars because there isn’t enough energy involved.  I wouldn’t be surprised if a few personal vehicles made the transition sometime but probably for other uses than serious travel.  These things carry no weight which isn’t absolutely required, there is no safety in a crash and they are incredibly expensive.  All pluses for a college student.

It was an exciting surprise today and made my afternoon.

13 Responses to “2010 American Solar Challenge”

  1. GregO said


    Very cool cars. Thanks for the post.

  2. Jeff Id said

    #1, It brought back some great memories.

  3. stupmy said

    Would be great to have a car run on just sunlight, but then theres winter, cloudy days, night time, and they would of course be hot and stuffy, uncomfortable, unsafe and probably cant be used in strong winds plus no room for passengers and would never know when you would get anywhere, as it would depend on the weather! – shame though, as I love being out on the yacht at the winds mercy – well until the wind drops below 5 knots, then you switch on the engine and cruise home, rather than drift aimlessly for a day!

    Still its a nice idea, abit like using trains over roads, its a romantic vision, but in reality very costly and not very efficient.

  4. JAE said

    Wow! Fascinating amount of variation in weight, battery type, solar cell type, etc. Some are only about half the weight of others.

  5. Brian H said

    Grump alert:

    Well, if you like table-tops on bicycle wheels with hi-tech aero-drag packaging. Such toys will never be useful, IMO. Even with 100% solar power capture the mass and resistance they can handle is almost trivial.

  6. Jeff Id said

    #5 I completely agree but then I think about better batteries/storage and solar cells. People might have them for toys in the future, of course not in the shapes of these things, but if it sat outside until you wanted to cruise to the store a few miles away, it might make some sense. That’s the only thing keeping me from saying never gonna work for anything.

    I like a couple hundred Hp rather than 1.

  7. Geoff Sherrington said

    Where would I put my supercharger?

  8. Brian H said

    That would be the LiIon battery-powered lamp you shine out thru the canopy onto the solar cells when you want more git-up-and-go.

  9. TerryMN said

    Nice link/post, Jeff – thanks! I’m a little disappointed in the U of MN car this year – but only a little. I always enjoy seeing what the current classes come up with for this annual competition, but for yet another year, I’ll stick with my Audi, TYVM. 🙂

  10. TDH said

    This competition is much more about teaching engineering students the design process, and exploring technologies, than it is to design the next renewable energy passenger car. My experience in 2000-2001 was invaluable in that respect. You just don’t learn things like that in the classroom

  11. Jeff Id said

    #10, That’s right. At the time it was going on, I already had gathered plenty of my own real world experience from other activities, but the project itself has a lot of challenges, including raising funds. Can I ask which school you worked with?

  12. David Jay said

    Hey Jeff – GO BRONCOS!

    Wow, way too many common threads in our histories…

  13. j ferguson said

    I would have loved to have done this in school, but alas, nothing is real in architecture school.

    In addition to the excitement of helping build one of these things, did you get a chance to inspect what the other teams had done? Were there clever details that impressed you along the lines of “That’s really slick?” How was working with a “thrown-together” team of classmates with varying amounts of “practical” experience? How did you organize yourselves?

    If you can remember this stuff, it might be worth a post on “how it looked from the inside.”

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