Solar-car team faces mechanical problems in Australian race

by Josh Linehan

The University’s solar car, Aurora 4, finished fourth in its division Wednesday in the World Solar Challenge in Adelaide, Australia. Overall, the University entry finished 23rd of 42 teams.
The Minnesota team finished the 1,880-mile race from Darwin to Adelaide in 7.5 days.
The team competed in a division for cars built on a limited budget and technology.
Solar Vehicle Project team members who competed in the race found room for future improvement but said they were happy with the results.
“The teams here say that if you can make it from Darwin to Adelaide without hitting a kangaroo, your team should definitely cheer,” electrical team leader David Ward said.
But mechanical problems often plague solar car races. Nine out of the 42 teams withdrew because of mechanical failures.
Although University team members said they were “100-percent happy” with their mechanical crew, they battled mechanical obstacles throughout the competition, also.
Aurora 4’s solar cells were operating at two-thirds power during the race. The team was unable to fix the problem because they lacked materials.
The car’s cruise control also turned itself on throughout most of the race. The electrical team repaired the problem after the sixth night, however.
Aurora 101, a Melbourne-based car, won the race in 41 hours and 6 minutes with an average speed of almost 73 kilometers per hour.
The University’s car finished in 63 hours and 31 minutes with an average speed of 47.21 kilometers per hour.
Overall, the team members enjoyed the experience.
“We are not completely happy with our performance, but our goal was just to finish the race, and we did,” Ward said.
The University team worked for two years ironing out the Aurora 4 plans, attempting to improve on its predecessor, Aurora 3.
The new car, unveiled last spring, is sponsored by the University and by outside contributors, including Target, 3M and Storagetek. It has competed in Sunrayce ’99 and the World Solar Challenge.
The car’s panels contain almost 2,000 cells that collect solar energy. The energy is then transferred into storage cells for later use.
Aurora 4 has a top speed of more than 80 mph. When running at 55 mph, the car only uses 1,600 watts, about the energy needed to power a hair dryer.

Josh Linehan covers science and technology and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.