With the conclusion of school for summer break and the clock ticking down for the Solar Car Challenge, the last preparations have begun for our trip to Texas. The race is now just 16 days away with only 10 days until our car departs from Seattle on its long trailer ride to Fort Worth, Texas. We know that these days will go by fast and will soon find ourselves on the plane to Texas.
Team mentor Dr. Alain Semet laminates our solar panels at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds
While most parts of the car have been completed for a little while now, our new solar panels have only recently been installed and wired. This involved the tedious process of soldering each cell into a panel and then putting the panels into a machine to laminate them. With all of them soldered, all that was left to do was installing them to the car and wiring them together. This past week, our electrical, solar, and mechanical teams have all worked together to complete this major project so the panels could be tested before the race. Testing our panels helps us better understand how much power we will be generating during the race which is key for our strategy team in determining the best speed for our car to travel.
Jimmy, with new solar panels installed
Understanding the solar array is one aspect of our strategy; the other part involves knowing how much power our car uses when driving. To help understand the efficiency of the car, we test it thoroughly. Over the past few weekends, we have tested our car at a variety of speeds, battery levels, and other settings which we can then take data points for and plot on a graph. Testing is not just about gathering data, but also about pushing our car to its limit. For example, we noticed a few problems with our motor controller including overheating and mid-drive shut-off (which has given many members flashbacks to last year when a similar situation occurred) while testing this year. Testing the car lets us determine any problems we may encounter during the race so the team knows how to manage them ahead of time, as opposed to being surprised at the race.
Team member Atticus Caudle (9) drives Jimmy around the PACCAR Testing Track.
A week before the car left for Texas last year, we were in the midst of our final testing when our motor controller died. We spent three days frantically trying to fix our motor controller and testing our spare controller but could not get them to work. We immediately ordered more motor controllers; however, they were not scheduled to arrive for at least another week and a half – long after the car would leave for texas. Just as we finally ordered them to arrive in reasonable time down to Texas, one of our motor controllers started working again. This year, however, our problems have scaled drastically. We fixed the issue with the motor controller cutting out while driving, but an issue still remains: The motor controller overheating. The team has and will continue to spend many hours troubleshooting and diagnosing the motor controller so our car can leave for Texas in tip-top shape.
Without question, we have spent the last few months preparing the car with great effort. However, the travel team has also been hard at work in other aspects; members of the travel team have been planning logistics of the trip and participating in scrutineering practice sessions (a process where race officials check that each team’s vehicle is in spec and is compliant with the rules). The scrutineering sessions are a fantastic way to make sure all team members know the car very well, both inside and out. During these sessions, we also have members double-check that our car complies with all of the rules for this year’s competition. Logistically, there is a lot of work that goes into planning for the trip. Our logistics team has worked hard to finalize all documents and ensure that we bring all essential items to Texas. We do not want to arrive and realize we forgot one key bolt or screw; for this reason, a significant amount of time was spent on making sure we will have all the tools and components we need.
Throughout the past few weeks, the team has worked hard preparing for the approaching race. Please continue to follow our progress through our blog and social media accounts. We will post more updates soon as well as throughout the race from July 13 – July 20.