We’re in the home-stretch of the season — with only three weeks until the car is shipped off to Fort Worth, TX, the Green Energy Team has been hard at work putting the finishing touches on this season’s car. Over the past few weeks, we’ve officially become a solar car! Our seven separate panels have been integrated into our carbon fiber array frame, and the battery has been successfully charged by the sun. We have made a tremendous effort to fully understand our car and we are testing anywhere and everywhere: from driving behind the school, to doing laps around Boeing Field, and even using the official PACCAR truck testing site in Mount Vernon, WA. Excited to show off the product of our hard work, we hosted a car showcase for friends, family, sponsors, and community members.
With the car nearly complete, the only parts left to finish are minor pieces including optimizing our strategy and making sure we comply with the rules. In the past few weeks we have worked hard both in the shop and on the test track. Our front fairings were a completely new challenge for us because we had previously not worked with carbon fiber and getting it was difficult to shape it to our mold without wrinkles. After completing the main body of the car, one of the major projects we had remaining was to cover the car. We wrapped most of the chassis and rear fairings with airplane fabric that we glued in place and shrunk to match the shape of the car. For sections of the car that had to be easily accessible during the race, we used wood paneling as a cover. The wood was used mainly to cover the electronics and allows us to unscrew and access all of the electronics in case there are any issues.
Another major progress update is the completion and integration of our solar panels. Last year we attached our solar panels with glue and tape. While this worked, we recognized that it was not the most practical or durable method. This year we decided to use screws to attach the edges of our solar panels which allowed for a much more permanent solution. We attached the panels to the array frame and taped all of the edges for extra security and improved aerodynamics. Another part of installing the solar panels was the wiring, which had to go to the MPPT’s, a maximum power point tracker, and then from the MPPT to the battery. After wiring the panels, we tested to make sure they would charge the battery and that they would all perform correctly. Because the panels generate the most power when they are perpendicular to the sun’s rays, the solar panels need to be raised and tilted when the car is not driving to face the sun. We worked on stays which would hold the panels up at increments of 10 degrees so we could match the angle of the sun no matter the time of day.
Now that the car was almost complete, we were eager to show off our work to friends and family. We held a car reveal and showcase for family members, friends, and sponsors. During the showcase we held a short presentation to talk about what we worked on during the past year. Our presentation covered design, manufacturing, electrical, and strategy. We then held a questions and answers session to discuss the more specific details of the car that interested our audience. Finally, we drove the car around on the street in front of Raisbeck Aviation High School to demonstrate it’s driving abilities to everyone in attendance.
We have also worked to develop and optimize our strategy by testing at various locations. Testing allows us to gather data from every system of the car and work out any kinks that arise. Recently, we have been testing every single weekend, often pulling full days at the testing locations. Everyday after testing, we come back with a list of action items to work on before the next day testing.
Sometimes, the testing process leads to unexpected circumstances. On our first day testing at the PACCAR Technical Center, we sustained a major tire failure. As a result of an overfill, the front-left tire exploded, shot straight up, and blasted the mock panels off the car. Maya Peña (11) was on the scene when it happened. “It sounded like a bomb went off on the track. First, I was afraid, I was petrified. The entire team was wondering what had happened, so we ran over to the stopped car. Nigel, our driver, was okay, so we checked out the wheels. After a few minutes of work, we got a new wheel on the car, and got back to our test schedule.”
At this point in time, the car is almost complete. However, we are still working hard to put the finishing touches on the car before we send it off to Texas in a little less than three weeks. This is prime-time for solar car members to put in the extra effort to make sure the car is completely race-ready and that everyone knows the car inside and out. The progress in the last month has been outstanding and we plan to keep the hard-work up all the way through the race.