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Quick race update, more to come

On the last day we woke up to grey skies with a few patches of sun in the distance. We tried to trailer to an area with more sun, but ended up underestimating how much the clouds would clear up and had to trailer back up the highway a bit to add more solar miles to our trip. In the end, we completed 2222 km on solar power (total coincidence for the number of km) and ended up in 16th place based on provisional results. After Port Augusta, we packed the car up again to get to Adelaide for the night and a much deserved night off. 

On Sunday morning, the WSC officials kindly let us parade to the finish line out of finishing order so that I could cross the finish line with the team and still make my flight back to the states at 10:50am. A few excited team members made the traditional jump into the fountain and we took our car through the final inspection to show we had complied with race regulations. 
Everyone flew home on Monday to get back to classes and start making up work we missed for the race. Thank you to all the MIT professors who have made coming to WSC possible for the SEVT in the middle of the semester.
We’ll post a bunch more pictures of the race soon. Thanks to everyone who has been following our blog over the race. Our total number of page views has more than doubled in the past month. It’s very exciting to have some many people checking in on our progress.
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Day 4 – Two girls, one solar car

SUNSHINE! Finally. The sun broke through today, topping off our battery pack after yesterday’s hold at Tennant Creek. That meant we had a completely full battery pack starting this morning, along with abundant sunshine.

We upped our speed to 60-70 kph, finally allowing Chopper to strut its stuff. Let me introduce you to our drivers, Lauren and Kelly. They have been at the helm of Chopper, cruising down the highway for extremely long shifts. A solar car driver shift lasts around 4-5 hours (the time between checkpoints). Lauren (a senior mechanical engineer) is pictured below, rockin some team-issued aviators before her driving shift.

Kelly (a senior electrical engineer) took the earlier shift, driving 5 hours in the heat and humidity to make it to the next checkpoint. They honestly do have the most exhausting job on the team. Below, tired driver is tired.

One terrifying moment was when we were run off the road by an oversize load trucking the other way. Our scout warned us via radio a large truck was coming, and when we responded “ok well move over to the edge of the lane” they told us “NO GET THE HELL OFF THE ROAD”. We wisely followed their advice.

We still had some clouds in the afternoon, but we at least got some awesome pics out of it. At the end of day 4, we made it to the Tropic of Capricorn, juts north of Alice Springs. Our evening charge also gave us a beautiful sunset, its reflection captured here off the solar array.


Tonight, were staying just a few meters from the Tropic of Capricorn landmark. After some good food and hanging out with Durham University (also at our campsite). Below is a pic from our campsite. Another day tomorrow – right now we’ve got to catch some sleep for our morning charge.

Day 3 – Solar Car vs Nature

And were still choppin. The first thing we noticed was the cloud layer this morning – enough clouds to the east that our morning charge was far from expected. With that, we headed down Stuart Hwy at a conservative pace in order to charge the battery pack over the length of the drive.

Once again, nature put up a tough fight. There were some major fires to the south throwing up large smoke clouds – this led to a huge decrease in array power. We played it safe most of the day, recharging our pack but still making headway. We planned to pass the Tennant Creek checkpoint at 1pm or so, but found ourselves with a dozen other teams who had been held at the checkpoint.

Apparently a road closure further south due to the fires held up some teams for around 4 hours, so WSC decided to hold all teams at the Tennant Creek checkpoint by the same amount. What that means for us (and the other teams) is that we will camp here tonight, and continue on tomorrow morning when our hold is complete. Although this allows us to get a complete charge on our battery pack, it makes completion of the race a lot more difficult (since we’ve been delayed by 4 hours). We will work out our strategy tonight to figure out our optimal speed and gain on our competitors tomorrow. In the pic below were hanging out at Tennant Creek and charging.

One thing we noticed is that our conventional moped tires are performing quite poorly. There has been quite a lot of commotion surrounding tires at WSC, mostly because Michelin decided not to provide their tires to most teams, including MIT. With our own commercially available tires having a rolling resistance coefficient three times that of the Michelins, there is little chance that we and our moped-tire compatriots can stand upon the podium. We will continue with these tires even though it leaves us at a pretty big disadvantage.

For now, were staying at Tennant Creek with a dozen other teams, and taking off tomorrow. We’ll update you with more info as we get it. Oh and check out the baby kangaroo!

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Day 2 – The Journey Continues!


We kept on charging down the Stuart Highway today, trying to get past the next control point and more. Our newly constructed battery pack (thanks UMich!!!) has a smaller capacity due to a lack of battery protection system circuitry, so we depleted most of it yesterday. Our goal was to end with more “in the tank”.

In fact, at certain times we were charging the car while driving! Granted, we kept our pace conservative to not deplete the battery pack further. By the end of the day, we ended with a battery pack more full than when we started.

But Nature was not on our side today. We had large hazy clouds and some smoke floating over us all day. Our scout team (several kilometers ahead) kept reporting that they fared no better, and indeed we had cloud cover in some form for the entire day. With lack of sun, we ended the day around kilometer marker 766, not exactly what we wanted, but the environmental conditions required it. That gives us a tough challenge tomorrow, but we’re looking forward to it.

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World Solar Challenge 2011

And we’re off!! MIT SEVT started World Solar Challenge 2011 today, kicking off a 3000km race across the outback.

We started around 9am on Sunday morning, down a packed street in downtown Darwin. There was a huge amount of media and press there – kind of crazy actually. The start went off without a hitch and we soon found ourselves cruising down Stuart’s Highway (the main road we go choppin’ on).

After passing a few broken down cars, we found ourselves with a few problems of our own. After a shredded tyre (a quick turnaround thanks to our awesome tyre crew) we realized we were suffering a problem with our array. Some quick math and guesstimates proved that it would be worth the lost time to pull over and solve it – and luckily our EE team managed to isolate the problem and get us back up and running at full power (we saw ~1100 watts today, a fantastic number). We sprinted to the next checkpoint and managed to slip in just a few minutes before it closed, and kept driving until we found our perfect array charging location just off the highway.

After day 1, we find ourselves just around kilometer 400. A solid performance, but we’re confident we can better that distance tomorrow. Right now its about 8pm and we’ve already tucked Chopper in bed. Time to get some rest and prep for the next day – ideally not as eventful and exciting as today.

Off to hang out under Australian skies. Check back soon for more updates.

This post and every one from the outback is brought to you by Satellitephonestore.com – one of our new sponsors that gave us satellite phones and data to keep in touch with each other and our supporters back home.

World Solar Challenge 2011

And we’re off!! MIT SEVT started World Solar Challenge 2011 today, kicking off a 3000km race across the outback.

We started around 9am on Sunday morning, down a packed street in downtown Darwin. There was a huge amount of media and press there – kind of crazy actually. The start went off without a hitch and we soon found ourselves cruising down Stuart’s Highway (the main road we go choppin’ on).

After passing a few broken down cars, we found ourselves with a few problems of our own. After a shredded tyre (a quick turnaround thanks to our awesome tyre crew) we realized we were suffering a problem with our array. Some quick math and guesstimates proved that it would be worth the lost time to pull over and solve it – and luckily our EE team managed to isolate the problem and get us back up and running at full power (we saw ~1100 watts today, a fantastic number). We sprinted to the next checkpoint and managed to slip in just a few minutes before it closed, and kept driving until we found our perfect array charging location just off the highway.

After day 1, we find ourselves just around kilometer 400. A solid performance, but we’re confident we can better that distance tomorrow. Right now its about 8pm and we’ve already tucked Chopper in bed. Time to get some rest and prep for the next day – ideally not as eventful and exciting as today.

Off to hang out under Australian skies. Check back soon for more updates.

This post and every one from the outback is brought to you by Satellitephonestore.com – one of our new sponsors that gave us satellite phones and data to keep in touch with each other and our supporters back home.

Thank you Michigan Solar Car!!

We would like to say a huge thank you to the University of Michigan Solar Car team for generously donating their spare battery pack. We worked all night with the modules lent to us by Michigan, and managed to pull it together just in time. Our electrical engineers were successfully able to build a new pack last night which the scrutineers approved an hour before dynamic testing. Hats off to University of Michigan – without them we would not be running this race.
We added a Michigan sticker to our trailer as a tiny thank you.
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Picture Update!

Having successfully acquired the memory cards from everyone’s cameras I now have a plethora of pictures to post. These are from the past several days:

This one here is from when we went to pick up the trailer from the shippers. Captain Alejandro Arambula poses in the “high visibility” jackets we wear whenever we have the solar car out on public roads. Funny little anecdote: The team actually took a wrong turn at the airport and almost ended up on the tarmac with all the planes. Even though people frequently ask us if the “car can fly” .. we’re not quite there yet.
This next one was when we first arrived at Hidden Valley. The World Solar Challenge draws a lot of media attention and we found ourselves the focus of several camera crews when we unloaded Chopper del Sol for the first time on Australian soil.
The electrical engineers [EEs] working on the array while it charges the battery pack. It is not uncommon to spot EEs crouched under solar car arrays, which provide about a Kilowatt of power to the vehicle (that’s less than your typical hair dryer). The car then races 3000km at highway speeds, so ensuring that everything is working as efficiently as possible is absolutely crucial.
More EEs under arrays: Here Simon Calcutt, Alexander Hayman, and George Hansel work on programming the Maximum Power Point Trackers [MPPTs] – the electrical system on the car which allows us to draw the maximum power from the array by determining how much current should be drawn from a string of cells.
As you may remember from a previous blog post, one of the challenges the team has been facing is that our battery pack has been held in Singapore due to a mistake our shipper’s part. Our EEs quickly put together the pack above, made from Golf Cart lead-acid batteries so that we could test-drive the car. After several hours of international phone calls, we have news that our battery pack should arrive late tonight.
Still despite not having our race pack, the car is driving great. Above is a picture of the car zooming by at around 47 mph (75 km/h). The car does look a bit bare as we have yet to add our brand new sponsor stickers to the car (it’s on the to-do list for today). However, our sponsors are not forgotten: all our race and support vehicles have been decked out with brand new color stickers (and notice the back of Bruce’s shirt, also sporting our sponsor logos).
Again a huge thank you to all our sponsors. This incredible project would not have been possible without you.
Above, Conan Hom times driver Lauren Chai as she practices getting in and out of the car. Drivers are required to get in and out from the car in less than 15 seconds. We passed this with flying colors – one of our drivers made it in 10 seconds.
Rachel, George, Kelly, and myself rocking our awesome MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team t-shirts as we watch the proceedings on the track.
Team members attached the large “Solar Vehicle Ahead” sticker to the chase car. WSC regulations require all chase support vehicles to have this as we do drive on the Stuart highway alongside the general public.
Here are a couple pictures from scrutineering. Several teams are inspected at the same time, so it is a great opportunity to go check out other teams’ cars. It’s awesome to see the variety in designs:

Time to join the team for test driving. I’ll add more pictures when I get the time. Keep checking back!

Picture Update!

Having successfully acquired the memory cards from everyone’s cameras I now have a plethora of pictures to post. These are from the past several days:

This one here is from when we went to pick up the trailer from the shippers. Captain Alejandro Arambula poses in the “high visibility” jackets we wear whenever we have the solar car out on public roads. Funny little anecdote: The team actually took a wrong turn at the airport and almost ended up on the tarmac with all the planes. Even though people frequently ask us if the “car can fly” .. we’re not quite there yet.
This next one was when we first arrived at Hidden Valley. The World Solar Challenge draws a lot of media attention and we found ourselves the focus of several camera crews when we unloaded Chopper del Sol for the first time on Australian soil.
The electrical engineers [EEs] working on the array while it charges the battery pack. It is not uncommon to spot EEs crouched under solar car arrays, which provide about a Kilowatt of power to the vehicle (that’s less than your typical hair dryer). The car then races 3000km at highway speeds, so ensuring that everything is working as efficiently as possible is absolutely crucial.
More EEs under arrays: Here Simon Calcutt, Alexander Hayman, and George Hansel work on programming the Maximum Power Point Trackers [MPPTs] – the electrical system on the car which allows us to draw the maximum power from the array by determining how much current should be drawn from a string of cells.
As you may remember from a previous blog post, one of the challenges the team has been facing is that our battery pack has been held in Singapore due to a mistake our shipper’s part. Our EEs quickly put together the pack above, made from Golf Cart lead-acid batteries so that we could test-drive the car. After several hours of international phone calls, we have news that our battery pack should arrive late tonight.
Still despite not having our race pack, the car is driving great. Above is a picture of the car zooming by at around 47 mph (75 km/h). The car does look a bit bare as we have yet to add our brand new sponsor stickers to the car (it’s on the to-do list for today). However, our sponsors are not forgotten: all our race and support vehicles have been decked out with brand new color stickers (and notice the back of Bruce’s shirt, also sporting our sponsor logos).
Again a huge thank you to all our sponsors. This incredible project would not have been possible without you.
Above, Conan Hom times driver Lauren Chai as she practices getting in and out of the car. Drivers are required to get in and out from the car in less than 15 seconds. We passed this with flying colors – one of our drivers made it in 10 seconds.
Rachel, George, Kelly, and myself rocking our awesome MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team t-shirts as we watch the proceedings on the track.
Team members attached the large “Solar Vehicle Ahead” sticker to the chase car. WSC regulations require all chase support vehicles to have this as we do drive on the Stuart highway alongside the general public.
Here are a couple pictures from scrutineering. Several teams are inspected at the same time, so it is a great opportunity to go check out other teams’ cars. It’s awesome to see the variety in designs:

Time to join the team for test driving. I’ll add more pictures when I get the time. Keep checking back!

Team in Australia

A few members arrived on Friday and the rest of the team will be here this afternoon.
Our car has arrived safely in Darwin, but we are still waiting on our Carnet to get it through customs. Hopefully we can get that all sorted out on Monday morning and start prepping for the race.

We will post pictures in the next few days, but our current internet connection is a bit too slow for that.We will also be updating our progress on our new twitter account @ChopperdelSol
We also have satellite phones with a data plan thanks to SatellitePhoneStore.com and will be able to send out pictures and updates while racing in the Outback!

Thank you to all our sponsors who have helped us get here. We are all excited to race!

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