Greetings from Down Under. I’m the senior business development manager for the University of Michigan Solar Car team. In case you’re not familiar with us, we are an entirely student-run organization that designs and builds electric vehicles. We race around the world and are currently in Australia preparing for the 2013 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge (WSC).
Last week, we successfully completed our Australian Mock Race, our final large-scale testing event before the main race Oct. 6-13. We drove our car -- Generation -- halfway through the Outback and back, through windy, rainy, and sunny conditions. But our journey to the WSC started more than a year ago.
In June 2012, the regulations for the 2013 WSC were released and caught the solar racing community off-guard. In recent years, our cars had three wheels. Our previous car, Quantum, had three wheels, was ultra-aerodynamic, and finished third in the 2011 WSC.
However, this year, WSC mandated a four-wheeled car, which introduced a whole new design challenge. Four wheels means an additional tire, resulting in more drag and more weight.
We started our design work immediately. We tested out symmetric designs, with the driver in the middle, and we tested asymmetric designs, with the driver sitting on one side of the car. Because of the new design change, we placed a large emphasis on our aerobody design. Siemens NX software allowed us to continue making changes to our aerobody while designing mechanical parts for the car. Because both our mechanical division and our aero division were using NX, we were able to design each system simultaneously and easily transfer designs between each group.
In July, we had the first large-scale testing event with our car. We drove Generation over 1,000 miles around the state of Michigan, trying to learn more about the car. We spent one day on the side of the road because of wiring in our electrical system. All in all, our asymmetric design proved successful in the environments we built it for.
Fast-forward a few months to September. There’s less than a month until the 2013 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, and teams from across the world are heading into Darwin to begin scrutineering. We just completed our Australian Mock Race, driving Generation through the Outback and learning how to overcome problems native to Australia.
We’re looking forward to the start of the race on Oct. 6. We’ve got miles/kilometers of testing under our belt, we’re used to the terrain of the Outback, and we even have experience swatting away flies and avoiding snakes. Now, there’s only one thing left to do and that’s to win the WSC.
I’ll give you another update during the race. In the meantime and throughout the race, stay tuned to our Twitter updates for the latest from Australia.