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About the U of M Solar Vehicle Project

The U of M Solar Vehicle Project was founded by a group of undergraduates in the Institute of Technology in 1990. The team completed Aurora I in just three years to compete in the 1993 GM Sunrayce. The team remains an undergraduate project and has grown to include as many as 50 students in a variety of disciplines at the University. The project has remained true to its original foundation as a student administered, designed and built project that teaches members about engineering and management in a complete product development environment.

2009 Formula Sun Solar Vehicle Project Team

Historically, development has followed a two-year cycle that culminates with competition in the North American Solar Challenge. Team members spend the first year reverse-engineering the previous car, and creating concept designs for the next car. The new car is built and tested throughout the second year, and then raced at the North American Solar Challenge.

Currently, the team is divided into four smaller groups based on major vehicle systems. As in any project of this scale, there is a large amount of interaction between the four teams:

  • Aerodynamics team: Drag is the single largest force that counteracts the thrust provided by the motor. The aerodynamics team is motivated to reduce drag as much as possible. This is done primarily by careful design of the shell and fairings of the vehicle.
  • Array team: It would not be a solar car without the solar array. One entire team is dedicated to handling what is by far the most expensive item on the vehicle: the solar cells. This includes researching the types of cells, acquiring them, and applying them to the shell.
  • Electrical team: The electrical team is in charge of storing and using the harnessed solar energy to make the car go. The energy gets stored in the batteries and later gets used to power the electric motor which in turn drives the car. Additionally, important data is provided to the driver on an LCD and to the outside world via a radio.
  • Mechanical team: The mechanical team is in charge of many systems that would be found on any type of car. These include the steering, brakes, suspension, chassis, wheels, and more. All of these are carefully designed to provide a safe but efficient ride.
Solar Vehicle Project