University finishes fourth in annual world solar rally

Elena Rozwadowski

Since 2003, the University Solar Vehicle Project team has been working on Borealis III, an energy-efficient, solar-powered car that has taken them halfway across the world.

Borealis III finished fourth out of 10 teams at the World Solar Rally Sept. 18-20 in Taiwan, an international solar vehicle competition at which teams of students and scientists from around the world gathered to race their energy-efficient vehicles.

The Ashiya University Sky Ace TIGA team from Japan took first place, while two Taiwan teams took second and third.

Project manager Patrick O’Connor said the team is happy with the results, but it made some decisions in the building process that might have hindered the results in parts of the race.

“Our car could go as fast or faster than the competition, but we didn’t have the tires for it,” O’Connor said. There also were some electrical and mechanical problems that got in the way.

The 10-student team left for Taiwan on Sept. 9, giving it more than a week to unload the car from its 40-foot metal crate, set up for the race and adjust to the hot and humid environment, said Jessica Lattimer.

“It was different than everything we’re used to, even the style of race,” Lattimer said. “It was an overwhelming experience for most of us.”

The race lasted three days with timed and untimed segments each day. The timed segments allowed drivers to drive their cars as fast as they could go, while the untimed portions forced them to maneuver through traffic.

Even with the test runs, the drivers weren’t prepared for driving in traffic, which was something they had never experienced with the car at home, said driver David Myers.

“The untimed sections (without traffic) were very short,” he said. “It was stressful trying to drive a fragile, very expensive car through very crazy traffic.”

The University team got off to a less-than-ideal start on the first day. Not only was it cloudy, but the car also had some electrical problems, O’Connor said.

“We were able to charge the batteries and make any repairs we brought tools for,” he said.

Borealis III reached speeds of about 85 mph on the first day of the race, giving it a sixth place finish to the top Sky Ace team’s 100 mph “sprints” in the timed parts of the course.

Despite a few motor issues on the third day, the team managed to pull into fourth place.

“We had some mechanical problems, but we still got home safe,” O’Connor said. “As far as touring the countryside goes, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

The team already started to design a new vehicle, but Myers said Borealis III will stick around for a while in case there is a race next summer. It will also serve as an educational tool for new team members.

Although there aren’t any scheduled solar car events in the United States, solar project advisor Jeff Hammer said the University will coordinate with some other major solar vehicle universities in the country to create new events.

“There is a market right now because people are interested in solar cars,” Hammer said. “As long as people want it, they’ll find a way to pay for it.”