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Students race solar car across the Australian Outback

University of Minnesota is only United States team in Cruiser Class

Building a car from the bottom up that runs on the power of the sun is not an easy task, especially for undergraduate students just learning to be engineers. But that’s exactly what a team of University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering students did as they built and raced a car for the World Solar Challenge in Australia this fall.

The team finished fifth in the Cruiser Class of the 2015 World Solar Challenge, a 3,000-kilometer (1,864-mile) race across the Australian Outback starting in Darwin and heading south to Adelaide. Despite a few early setbacks, the team finished the entire race without having to trailer their car.

The University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project team was the only United States team in the Cruiser Class where solar cars are designed for practicality and marketability as well as speed. Cars are required to hold at least one passenger. The U of M team’s car included a few comfort features of regular cars such as doors and padded car seats for the driver and one passenger.

“We chose the Cruiser Class because we thought the design and build challenge was closer to what car designers face in the real world, “ said team leader and electrical engineering senior Stephanie Wilson, one of the first female team leaders in more than a decade.

About 25 University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering students are active members of the current team and 17 were part of the race crew in Australia. Team members estimate that they’ve collectively spent more than 50,000 hours over the last two years planning and building the solar car.

The University of Minnesota solar car team has a history of success. The team finished second in the 2014 American Solar Challenge and fourth in the 2013 World Solar Challenge.

“We’re proud of our students and the fact that they are one of the few teams that builds all the parts of their car themselves,” said College of Science and Engineering Associate Dean and electrical and computer engineering professor Mos Kaveh. “They are an impressive group of students who are getting a great learning experience.”

In addition to significant support from the University’s College of Science and Engineering and several academic departments, materials for the U of M’s solar car were funded through cash and in-kind donations of parts and materials from more than 50 local and national companies. The lead sponsor is PTC. Other major sponsors include 3M, Delta Airlines, Stratasys, Cirrus Aircraft, Segger, PaR Systems, Infolytica Corporation, IAR Systems, Cutsforth Inc., Ansys and Altium.