This September, Blue Sky Solar Racing welcomed its largest group of recruits to date! Over 150 students began their journey with the team. To reciprocate the strong interests from the student body, our team leads have been investing an extensive amount of time to design the content and plan the execution of the training program.
Well, the summer is drawing to a close, and I wanted to take a moment to look at all of the progress we’ve made towards our next car. I’ve been spending almost every evening designing new Pressure Recovery airfoils to extrude into our aerobody shapes. We’ve had the computers running almost 24/7 running CFD analysis on our aerobody designs. The mechanical and electrical systems are being designed, we’ve done layout testing at Bombardier, and we’re learning the fabrication techniques we’ll need to build the car over the next year.
It’s been an amazing experience being part of this design team. Sure, it’s a lot of work it can occasionally be frustrating, but it’s great to actually get to apply the skills I learn in my courses to a practical engineering design problem. We get to use Excel, MATLAB, CATIA, ANSYS and a host of other software tools, and I feel like I am improving as an engineer every day.
It’s also great hanging out with the rest of the team. Last month, twelve of us left for three days, canoe camping in Algonquin Park. That was a much-needed holiday after the months of design work, and we all had a great time.
The fall semester is approaching fast, and we’ll all be buried in work once again. I know the road ahead will be long and hard, but just as the team proved with B7, we’ll get through it with a completed solar car and a trip to Australia. I can’t wait.
Arthur Brown, Aerodynamicist
After being with the team for so long, sometimes I almost feel insensitive towards what the purpose of the team is and I often find myself surprised at an outsider’s zealous interest. Then I remember so let me take this chance to remind myself and whoever interested.
“Why make solar cars?” I have asked myself this question after working on the car for nights in a row, after lying to my parents that I’m studying for an exam what I’m actually fabricating the aerobody, after saying ‘No’ to ski trips with friends because it’s a Saturday (official Blue Sky work day), after spending weekends sleeping on a rickety chair for a year as I travelled to the city to work on the car.
Many friends in the solar car fraternity have tried to answer this question. Zhe Gong’s (Blue Sky) and Rachel Abril’s (Stanford) response has been “We do it because it challenging”. I do agree that driving at highway speeds across the continent of Australia using the same power as that of a microwave is challenging…. especially as a student team who designs, builds and races a world class solar car in their free time. This reason usually works as a motivator for most people I interact with. However, a manager in a major automotive OEM once asked me “Why do all this for – To remake a decade old design of an inverted wing with a few solar panels on wheels?”
For starters solar racing has evolved over time with solar cars becoming smaller, lighter and faster pushing the limits of the best technologies around. On a larger scale however I think we do it because it’s unpopular but important. We do it so that the dream of making humans a sustainable species is kept alive. A tangible example of this dream is that of the ongoing “Tesla revolution” which in-part was brought about by solar racing alumnus JB Straubel (Stanford Solar Car Project). Another example is our very own Tom Rodinger who started Nanoleaf and produced the world’s most efficient LED light bulb.
One could argue that the project has achieved its goals with the recent popularisation of electric vehicles. But I beg to differ. As of 2013 electric vehicles sales made for only 0.0006% of total car sales in the world. While another solar racing alumnus Chetan Maini (Michigan Solar car team) has been trying to start an electric revolution in the developing world; the difficult journey of making commercially successful inexpensive, non- luxury, standard electric vehicles still lies ahead.
I believe that solar racing acts as a cradle for forging individuals with mindsets bent on finding solutions to many such global issues pertaining to sustainability. The long, bitter- sweet process of making a world class solar car with limited resources toughens one to face challenges. The strong bonding amongst team members creates a social setting conducive to fearlessly taking on new challenges. While the “Blue Sky Thinking” and the resulting passion for creating a better future prepares one for perseverance.
Sure, the car itself might not be fully practical on its own but the heart of the project: development of individual members poised to make a difference is where its real value lies.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead
Where is my flying car?
A hundred years ago, futurists back then envisioned that life in the 21st century would be a breeze. Here is a list of things people expected to have today in the transportation sector:
- Flying Cars
- Railroad ships
- Mobile pavements
- Aquatic cars
- Locomotive buildings
It seems that out of the 5 listed, we have achieved roughly 3 (?) of them..
1. Mobile pavements as the modern day escalators and travelators. Check.
2. Aquatic cars as submarines. Check.
3. Locomotive buildings as RVs maybe..?
That isn’t too bad, we are past the halfway point (assuming the hand waving point about 3 is accepted). However, you might be wondering “What does this have to do with solar cars..?”. Well the truth is, our solar car is secretly a flying car. No, I’m just kidding.
The point that I’m trying to make is this:
People back then didn’t predict that solar cars would exist within the next 100 years. The invention of a (working) flying car seemed more likely than a sustainable electric vehicle. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Here we are, a group of university students dedicated to the project that has produced not just a solar car, but several solar cars. Seven to be precise. Of course, this group alone didn’t design and build all seven cars, but the spirit of discovery and innovation has prevailed since the project was established in 1997. That’s 17 years now! Equivalent in age to a brooding adolescent.
The community of solar car racing is a significant factor to the project’s evolution over time as the involvement with other groups dedicated to sustainable design on a global scale is an invaluable exposure that (in my opinion) can’t be achieved to the same extend as the usual classroom interactions can offer. The stark contrast between the project and school isn’t in terms of education, it’s the ability to change the course of history, one solar car at a time. The next time someone asks for a flying car, tell them that you found something even better.
I was twelve years old when I decided on a career in mechanical engineering. I could give a long list of reasons, but there was one that stood out among the others. My one crazy dream: I wanted to save the planet.
I am not alone on the team in aspiring to a career in sustainable engineering, and I am certainly not alone in valuing sustainability in technology. Even outside of this project, we are a community of young engineers with a dedicated interest in improving environmental technologies. Blue Sky Solar Racing provides an invaluable platform to collaborate with like-minded individuals, improve our technical skills beyond anything we would learn in class, and, in the end, have something amazing to show for it.
Of U of T engineers, I believe that we are among the best educated on the intricacies of sustainable technology – from array power maximization, to mechanical and electrical efficiency, to fabrication load reduction, to aerodynamic loss reduction, to strategic use of the power at hand. The car that we create is a display of the maximum abilities not only of current technologies, but of engineering students who dedicate themselves to a singular purpose.
As a fabrication team lead, my job does not involve creating innovative technologies as much as it involves discovering them – and then finding innovative ways to use them to our team’s best advantage. My job involves asking as much as it does answering; and it involves learning from the very basics every step of the way. I joined the team as a wide-eyed, purple-dyed, first-year engineering student like any other. Yet here I am, two years later, helping to advance a team seven cycles and seven cars old. The team’s world-class development is our own personal development – and we are all just students.
For me, the personal development that I can see in myself and the other team members is as important as our final product. When I hear team members discussing the project with the general public, I am always amazed at their extent of the team member’s knowledge, and the captivation of the audience members. This is what I hope to draw attention to: our growing team of technologically and environmentally aware young engineers, the knowledge that we can share with the community, and the amazing work that can come from our dedicated hands.
Our car may be a fantastic display of student engineering, but we are the main innovation. We are the technology that will go forth and change the world.
And the twelve-year-old dreamer in me would be amazed at what we have accomplished.