Appalachian State University’s Solar Vehicle Team had a disappointing showing at the national competition in Austin, Texas last year.
They worked hard to complete in six weeks what most teams take two years to do, ultimately failing to finish their solar vehicle in time for the race. However, they won the perseverance award for finishing the car in such a short amount of time.
This year, they are much more prepared, and are poised for a strong showing at the national competition in Pittsburgh.
Daniel Blakeley, a graduate technology student, said that after returning from Austin last year, the team began working on the car almost immediately.
“When we got back, we started making a list of everything we had to do to make the car better,” Blakeley said. “We’ve rewired the entire car, redone the battery box, right now we’re in the process of creating a communication system so that we can collectively log data from all the components of the car, and in general we’ve been doing lots more little things to make sure the car runs at it’s very best basically from the moment we got back.”
Bailey Winecoff, a senior sustainable technology major, who was on the team last year, said they also had to train new team members.
“Only about six of us remained from last year,” Blakeley said. “It was definitely a challenge to get everyone up to speed so that we could all work to our fullest potential for this year.”
Although they’ve put in countless hours working on the car, they still have a lot of work to do. The entire suspension system still needs to be replaced with a more efficient type of aluminum.
Despite the work left, Blakeley said the team hopes to have the car finished by the end of the semester.
John Linck, a junior appropriate technology major, said that it was nice to see their hard work pay off when they did test runs with the solar car over spring break.
“The whole time we’d been working on [the car], it’d sort of been this inanimate object just sitting in a warehouse that we tinkered with,” Linck said. “To see it on the track and actually doing well gave us all a major sense of accomplishment.”
The team learned from their experiences last year, taking steps to make sure that the same mistakes don’t happen again.
Last year, the team had such little time to build their car because they didn’t find out about the competition until it was only about two months away.
This year, Winecoff said the team has worked tirelessly to make sure they’re prepared.
“Even though we were working like crazy last year to get the car done, I wouldn’t say the amount we’re working on it has changed at all,” Winecoff said. “We might not be pulling all-nighters anymore, but every one of us is out here just about every day, doing something with the car. I would say that everyone is putting about 70 hours into the car per week.”
The team has also learned from the logistical problems they encountered last year.
Winecoff said that as the work on the car is winding down, they’re putting more and more emphasis on ironing out the paperwork so that they can get a spot in the garage this year.
Blakeley said the team is very eclectic and draws students from a variety of interests and fields. The team is comprised of students who work on the electronics, engineering, design, and even business.
Blakeley said this improves the team’s chemistry and encourages working together to solve problems.
“Whenever one of us has an idea, we always consult the rest of the team first,” Blakeley said. “We all come from such different backgrounds that someone might have a really great solution to a problem that the rest of us never even thought of.”
Linck said one of the most rewarding parts of being on the team is the friendships that have formed from it.
“Even though we’re all very focused and motivated on the car, we like to have fun too,” Linck said. “We like to relax, and play games and hang out away from the car, and those are some of my favorite moments from being on the team this year.”
This year the national competition, the Formula Sun Grand Prix, consists of two stages.
The first stage is a circuit race which takes place in Pittsburgh. They’ll run the car on a track and try to do as many laps as they can in a set amount of time. Adjudication also takes place in the first stage, where the car is analyzed and graded based on other criteria.
Teams that do well enough in the Formula Sun Grand Prix get to take part in the second race, which is known as the American Solar Challenge.
The American Solar Challenge is a road race across America that covers 1,800 miles. Teams start in Brecksville, Ohio, and finish in Hot Springs, South Dakota.
This is the first year that the American Solar Challenge has partnered with the National Parks Service, allowing the race to be broken up into stages through different national parks.
“The reason we’re concerned about solar power in the first place is to be more sustainable and protect our environment,” Blakeley said. “So it’s really symbolic that the race will feature all these national parks which we’re trying to preserve.”
Pedro Franco, a graduate technology student who is one of the team’s founding members, said that they are confident and eager to show their competitors what they are capable of.
“Last year, we were so unprepared that people were telling us we couldn’t do it, and we still exceeded all of their expectations,” Franco said. “Now, we’re prepared and confident, and ready to show everyone that we mean business.”
Story by: Tommy Culkin, Senior News Reporter