MIT Solar Car Team Blog

Ready to start!

We are all set to go for the World Solar Challenge! We have passed dynamic scrutineering and will be starting in position 28. Our trailer is packed and we are ready to depart on an adventure across the outback.

Dynamic scrutineering is very similar to static scrutineering in that it verifies the safety and regulation compliance of the car, but it does so through actual driving. The process is rather straight forward and well run. Each team is sent onto the track one by one. They then complete two laps of the track the first is for getting used to the current track conditions and then the second one is timed. This time is used for determining starting positions. After that the car pulls out to the drag strip that is tangent to the track. Here the driver must successful complete 2 U-turns, a slalom, and a brake test. If you pass all these tests safely and within the regulations you are ready for the Challenge this Sunday! We got a 2:25.5455, which put us in starting position 28. We aren’t too concerned about this though; this is an endurance challenge and not a race. We hope to start passing teams fairly early in the challenge, and nudge our way up the ranks.

After scrutineering we had some chances to get pictures with all of the teams and cars. All of our team was showing our team spirit, so we weren’t able to get any pictures of this really awesome spectacle. Don’t fret though as there were many many many photographers so some pictures from it will be easy to find. Such as this one from Solar Team Eindhoven:

To finish off the day we had the joy of packing all of our tools and supplies back into our trailer along with Arcturus. Now we are packed and ready for the challenge tomorrow and will be leaving at 0400 to get in our place for the start line. The team is excited for the adventure to come!

Fun fact of the day: Most of the Australian toilets we have seen do not in fact flush in the opposite direction as American toilets.In fact they don’t really produce a spiral flush but instead just flood the toilet bowl from the front and back. The jury is still out on what “scientific phenomenon” causes this.

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Scrutineering

We are clear to start! We even have a sticker that says so. We have passed static scrutineering, and the team has been able to sigh a collective sigh of relief.

During static scrutineering the event officials verified that Arcturus met the regulations and is safe to drive. We had scrutineering on Wednesday. So most of Tuesday we were double checking our car and making sure we hadn’t forgotten about one of the minor regulations. Wednesday the team woke up nice and early at 0515 in order to pick up Arcturus from the track and get to show grounds, where the scrutineering was happening, before our scheduled time. Scrutineering went very well overall. We had designed our car safely and with the regulations in mind, and it was showing. At the end of scrutineering there were only two issues we had to fix. The first was a problem with our driver seat cushioning. Our cushioning was just barely too thick to allow the driver to have the required head space. The other problem was that to open our canopy from the outside required a screw driver,which might not be available in an emergency.

After returning to the track we began working on the problems. We quickly made a new driver cushion that was smaller but still gave the drivers enough padding. We also fixed the canopy opening problem by putting wing nuts on the opening mechanism so the canopy could be opened from the outside by hand. With all the problems solved it was time to go back and get re-inspected. We were scheduled for re-inspection at 0800 on Thursday. We arrived before 0730, got inspected, got our awesome new sticker, and left for the track before 0745. It was great to be done with this major milestone and to do so so quickly. Now all that is left is to complete dynamic scrutineering on Saturday, where the car’s brakes and steering will be tested. Just three more days until the The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge starts. The team is ready and excited for the upcoming voyage across the outback.

Bridgestone World Solar Challenge PRIMARY LOGO

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Down Under

We are down under now! All of the team members have arrived in Darwin, Arcturus is at the track, and testing is under way. Most of the team arrived yesterday (Sunday) after leaving Friday after classes. Along the way though some team members had 12-hour layovers in Sydney and Melbourne, and were able to explore a little bit. I was in the Sydney group and got a quick taste of Sydney. We managed to see the Opera House, the Botanical Gardens, and a few museums. We even managed to not get lost in Sydney (despite my best effort).

Today was the second day that the team was able to work at the track. We checked the car over completely to make sure all the systems were safe and operational after Arcturus’s long voyage across the ocean. We then were able to get on the track for our allotted half hour. This test was rather successful and we only had to made slight modifications after the test. We also were able to get some of the logistical work done, such as: setting up car radios, lights and inverters, and updating our sponsor stickers on the trailer.

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Following us during Bridgestone World Solar Challenge

Tomorrow the team will be leaving for Australia! Here’s how to follow us during the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. During the actual challenge (Oct 18-25) we will be blogging daily and posting pictures to Instagram on the MITstudents account. During the challenge though we will be in the middle of the outback with very little internet connection. So our schedule may be odd, but don’t fret we will find a way to post content. Also the organizers will be putting up quite a bit of content so check them out at worldsolarchallenge.org.
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Sponsor Spotlight: 3M

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If you’ve made it to our corner of the internet, chances are you’ve heard of 3M. Post-it notes, scotch tape, 3M products are everywhere, but those of us on the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team know that 3M is so much bigger than that. In fact, Arcturus would never have come into being without the help of 3M products. As a long-standing platinum sponsor of our team, 3M has supported us over many different cars and races, so we wanted to take a moment to spotlight how their contribution keeps our team sticking together and our cars running smoothly.

One of my favorite 3M products that we use on the team are the 3M Speedglass welding helmets. The range of darkness settings and sensitivities on these helmets allow for the safest and most effective welding experience- especially important for new welders who already have their hands full learning the TIG welding ballet.

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In addition to keeping us safe while welding, 3M products play a critical role in our composite layup process and the subsequent body work. Cumulatively, the team spent over 150 hours sanding and finishing the body after the layup (a process that was many hundreds of hours on its own). Without key 3M products like the sandpaper and sanding fairing shown below, we would have been hopeless.

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When we’re at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge next month, we’ll be thinking of 3M every morning when we tape up the fairings and seams of the car with this beautiful vinyl tape.

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Our team is very grateful for the continued support of 3M, and we hope all of our sponsors and supporters are proud to be a part of our journey to race in Australia.

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Shipping Arcturus

On August 10 the whole team was able to breath a sigh of relief. Arcturus was dropped off at the port, and on its way to Australia (you can track exactly where here). We were essentially done, we couldn’t work on Arcturus anymore, and the next time we would see it would be in Darwin. we had worked tirelessly to get to this point.

As previously mentioned UPS is sponsoring the shipping of Arcturus to Australia. They were extremely helpful with not only the shipping but with working out the paperwork, and the other logistics. However there was still paperwork, and lots lots of it. We weren’t just shipping our car, but also all of our tools, and supplies that we needed, as well as our hopes and dreams. So how this all actually got shipped was in our trailer. we loaded Arcturus into our trailer, and then filled the space below it with all of our supplies, tools, etc. The team then had some great time to bond over looking up every item we were shipping, and finding their official classification. The other big hurdle was shipping our batteries, which are Lithium-Ion. Lithium-ion batteries have great energy density but also are very temperamental, and can catch fire if put in the wrong conditions. We worked with a packaging company to package the batteries so that they would be safe for the whole shipping process.

The Trailer all packed

Now with all the paperwork and packaging done it was time to actually drop off the trailer at the port. There was one problem with this though. Freight ships like big rectangular boxes, and our trailer is definitely not one of those. So first we had to have our trailer put in a shipping container. To prevent any hick-ups we wanted to be at Harbor Freight, who was putting our trailer in said containers, when they opened at Newark Port. This meant we had to leave Boston at 0200; we some how managed to leave at 0130. By the time we reached New York City the sun was rising which gave us some nice pictures. Once we got there it was surprisingly easy to drop off the trailer. Once they opened (we arrived almost an hour early) we just had to complete some final paperwork, and then just parked the trailer by their warehouse, and headed back. It felt a little anti-climatic for such a long journey to get to this point, but it was nice to no longer have to worry about what needed to be done on Arcturus. Although I think I wasn’t ready to accept that Arcturus was finished, as that night I dreamed about working on Arcturus and all the things I had to do on it. But now Arcturus is in Australia, and soon we will join it for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.

Sunrise over NYC

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Sponsor Spotlight: Infinesse Corporation

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Infinesse Corporation is the longest standing platinum sponsor of our team, and we are very grateful for their generous support. Designing, building, and racing solar cars is an incredibly challenging and ambitious mission for a student group to embark upon, and Infinesse has stood by us through both the good times and the hard times. In 2009, our team was able to visit the Infinesse LA office in person with Eleanor, our car at that time, giving the whole Infinesse team a chance to see our car up close, and giving us the chance to express our gratitude in person. We hope to make the trip back there before too long, but in the mean time, we’ll be racing for them and all our sponsors and supporters in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in just over a month, so stay tuned as we continue to prepare for the race!

Company Information: Infinesse Corporation manufactures and markets telecommunication systems and semiconductor products. It offers radio frequency (RF) semiconductor components and wireless private branch exchange (PBX). The company was founded in 1991 and is based in Los Angeles, California.

 

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Road Trip to Detroit

As we previously mentioned, the team went to Detroit in July! Though the purpose of the trip was for wind tunnel testing, that activity only took one day, so we spent the rest of the week doing some serious road testing and practicing for the upcoming Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. This week of testing gave us valuable experience, allowed for design optimizations to be made, and gave us critical data on Arcturus’s power draw.

For those not familiar with Michigan, they have some very snowy, cold winters, which leads to many of their roads having pot holes. This was great for testing our suspension, but after proving our rugged design, it was time to allow the drivers to have some comfort in the form of a smooth road. We eventually found a suitable route in a rural town outside of Detroit. While driving out in the countryside, we noticed that there was a large thunderstorm forming on the Doppler RADAR. Fearing there might be hail, and with our trailer a few miles away, we sought the only feasible shelter, a gas station. This was definitely a good call, as, within a few minutes of parking Arcturus, a torrential downpour began.

Arcturus at a gas station

This testing was good, but we quickly became limited by the speed limit on our chosen route, so we graduated to testing Arcturus on rural highways. After speaking with the Superintendent, we were able to set up “camp” at a school along the highway we had chosen to test on. The route also had some good hills, which was great for testing.

Beyond testing the car and training our drivers, the road trip was great for meeting people and doing some informal outreach. Almost all of the people we met in Michigan were very kind and intrigued by the car. In fact, one of the teachers we happened to talk to ended up tweeting about us:

We left Michigan at the end of the week. Everyone was exhausted from seven long days of testing and fixing. This week provided great practice and road time to prepare for the 2015 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. We even managed to get back to Boston in time to get the people who flew in for the week to the airport for their flights out. Check out the pictures from the road trip.

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Sponsor Spotlight: UPS and the MIT CTL Support MIT SEVT

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UPS has repeatedly demonstrated a commitment to community, sustainability, and research and has a long-standing relationship with MIT research teams including a partnership with the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics (CTL). We are excited to announce that UPS is MIT SEVT’s newest Gold Sponsor and is supporting our team by handling the shipment of Arcturus to and from Australia for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. Their expertise has already proven invaluable as we navigate the complex customs process.

 

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It is impossible to discuss our excitement that UPS has joined us as a Gold Sponsor without talking about the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics, our other newest Gold Sponsor. The MIT CTL, Directed by Professor Yossi Sheffi, has lead the field of supply chain management education and research for over 40 years. Partnering with almost 50 companies, from UPS to Wal-Mart to Anheuser-Busch, they perform solution-driven research that changes the way the world runs. The MIT CTL has been an incredible supporter of our team, and we’re thrilled that they have joined us as a Gold Level Sponsor.

As Gold Sponsors, both the UPS and the MIT CTL logos are on Arcturus, so keep your eyes peeled when you see photos of us driving in Australia or at community events when Arcturus returns from Australia this winter.

 

Bridgestone World Solar Challenge PRIMARY LOGO

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Arcturus Wind Tunnel Testing

On July 27 Ford donated valuable wind tunnel time that allowed the team to accurately characterize the aerodynamics of Arcturus. Ford has been supporting our team for over a decade: Tesseract, Eleanor, Chopper del Sol, and now Arcturus have all been tested at Ford’s wind tunnel facilities. Ford’s Driveability Test Facility is in Detroit, MI, which is 798 miles from our shop. So we made the 15 hour drive out there with the goal of determining the aerodynamic properties of Arcturus. The most important of these is the power loss caused by drag, which is described by the equation below. P is power lost; ρ is the air density; v is the velocity of the car; A is the frontal area of the car; and Cd is the coefficient of drag.

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The frontal area and the coefficient of drag must be found experimentally. To determine Arcturus’s frontal area, Ford projected a large LASER over the car onto a screen. The dark areas on the screen can then be integrated to find the frontal area.


At first yarn tufts taped to car were used to visualize air streams at the surface of the car while the wind tunnel was running.

To characterize the coefficient of drag, the drag on the car was measured at various air speeds and angles (since C will change with wind direction).  At cruising speed Arcturus has approximately the same amount of drag as sticking your hand out the window on the highway.  

Smoke was then used to visualize airflow above the car’s surface.

 

Pictures from the day: