World Solar Challenge

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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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

Bridgestone World Solar Challenge PRIMARY LOGO

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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.

Bridgestone World Solar Challenge PRIMARY LOGO

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.

gif.latex

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:

Introducing… Arcturus!

Photo Credit: Chris Pentacoff

Photo Credit: Chris Pentacoff

Hello world! Meet Arcturus, MIT SEVT’s first four-wheeled car!

After a whirlwind year of designing, building, and testing, Arcturus is now on it’s way to Australia, thanks to the shipping and logistics support of UPS and the MIT CTL. In just over a month, the car and the team will reunite in Darwin, Australia for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we recall some of our summer adventures with Arcturus and recognize the generous support of our sponsors. If you’d like to support our team’s efforts, please consider contributing to our Crowdfund MIT Campaign.

Bridgestone World Solar Challenge PRIMARY LOGO

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Test Driving at Palmer Motorsport Park

This Monday (13 July) we had a great day of testing at Palmer Motorsport Park, a new 2.3 mile track located less than two hours from the shop in the hills of Massachusetts. Palmer Motorsport Park was generous enough to donate to us this track time making them one of our newest sponsors. This track testing was extremely helpful for, as it allowed us to stress test the dynamics and handling of the car, while not having to worry about other cars on the road. We were able to push the car at high speeds through the course’s steep hills and tight turns safely. The drivers gained valuable experience with the car in these conditions and learned to drive the solar car efficiently to conserve battery energy.

DSC_1328

The day began rather early at our shop. We quickly loaded our gear into the truck and chase car, and headed west for Palmer, MA. Along the way there we were able to practice driving as and chase and lead for the solar car; although Arcturus was in the trailer, so some imagination was required. Once we arrived we were graciously greeted by the Owner and Caretaker, and we are able to quickly unload with their help.

DSC_1025

In the first few laps of testing we found a few minor improvements that could be made. Once we had implemented these Arcturus was running even better than before. We were then able to focus more on getting the drivers more comfortable with Arcturus, and the track. Each driver did a few slow starting laps to get used to the course’s tight turns and hills. Then each successive lap was bumped up to a higher speed. By the end of the day each driver was driving at high speeds, while also managing to be very energy efficient. They were able to better understand how to drive Arcturus at high speeds with minimal power draw, and practiced coasting and using regenerative breaking on the many downhill parts.

At the end of the day we had gotten in a good 7 hours of testing, had gathered valuable data for strategy, and even more important driver experience.

Check out some of the pictures from the day:

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WSC 2011 Final Results

The final results from WSC went up — the provisional results were contested, and WSC officials found a few accounting errors. We moved up one place to 15th, with the same number of solar kilometers (2222).

Full results here.

Meant to be Bent: a new series on creative interpretation of rules by Adam Delton

As many of you may have ascertained from the blog posts of recent weeks, WSC 2011 was a particularly… challenging World Solar Challenge for the MIT team.  Along the road to Adelaide we had some times where team morale was not particularly high, and it was often during these times that I made it my role to lighten the mood a bit with some completely serious speculation on methods designed to circumvent certain WSC regulations.  By popular request, I am now embarking on a mission to fully explore these interesting and complex ideas and share them with you.  As a disclaimer, all of what I detail in “Meant to be Bent” is completely serious.  The concepts that follow have been explained to WSC officials in a face-to-face setting, and each one has failed to be disallowed under the current set of rules.  That said, I cannot guarantee their compliance with 2013 rules.  So now, for Meant to be Bent, Episode I:




MEANT TO BE BENT


Swarm of Insolation Disrupting High Altitude Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (aka SIDHAUAV)

– the concept is that the team will invest in repurposing discarded military drones to automatically track the position of other solar teams’ vehicles during the race day from a high altitude, and maintaining a position directly between the sun of our solar system and that team’s array of solar cells

-the effect is simulated here on the UC Berkeley, Team CalSol’s 2011 vehicle, “Impulse”

before:

after:
(head to calsol.berkeley.edu to check out Impulse and our good friends at CalSol)

– by remaining high enough in the air, the drone can perform its task relatively undetected, by resembling a (strangely persistent) soaring bird

– modifications to the wings may need to be made to increase the shadow size of the craft

– with a fleet of these artificially creating less-than-ideal sun conditions for non-MIT vehicles, we will secure ourselves a nice edge over the competition

Bottom Line:
Cost: $40 million per drone (possible price break for order of 30+)
Time: full-time project for several aerospace engineers, electrical engineers, and computer science seniors / grad students
Legality: undetectable
Awesome-Factor: 7.8/10

Further Exploration:
– training actual birds to block insolation
– mirror/lens/fiber optic system on drones to redirect intercepted sunlight to MIT array for further advantage

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Day 7 – River Deep, Mountain High

At the end of Day 6, we laid out our ole’ trusty blue tarp at a campground in Glendambo and slept there*. We woke up to a sky full of clouds and misery.

Our scout car drove south, seeking sunnier skies. The rest of the team, with our trailered car, followed scout forward until we found a nice, flat spot with decent sun. After charging our pack from the array, we trailered the car back a couple hundred kilometers and proceeded to drive Chopper forward until we hit Port Augusta. Along the way, we encountered plenty of rolling hills, cattle grates, gusts of wind, and fast road trains.

Waiting for the clouds to break during our morning charge:

Solarcars were not allowed to drive south of Port Augusta after a certain time, so we trailered Chopper and took our convoy south to Adelaide.

We dropped out bags off at Quest in Adelaide and devoured a Lebanese meal. As you may know, Adelaide means partytime!, so we proceeded to meet up with other teams and celebrate the end of the race.

On Sunday, we drove up to the WSC finish line in Victoria Square. Rachel, Andy, and Annette then dashed off to the airport to catch their flights home. The rest of the team cleaned out our support vehicles, packed our supplies, and got ready to ship the trailer home.

That night, we attended the awards ceremony and got to congratulate the seven teams that finished the race without trailering. I’d like to give kudos to the UMichigan team not only for performing well, but also for embodying the spirit of the race and giving us help when we needed it. Thanks, UM, for lending us battery modules. You da best.

The race results were released that night, and we saw that we finished 16th out of the 37 (or 35?) competing teams.

The next morning, we flew out of Adelaide and encountered various mishaps at the Sydney airport and at LAX. We are now safely in Cambridge 😀

We are humbled by the turn of events that happened in WSC 2011: hellish circumstances, a gracious donation, broken dreams, and new hope. Here’s a big THANK YOU to everyone who contributed time, energy, money, materials, and well wishes to the team.

WSC 2011
MIT SEVT
(Both photos by Chris Pentacoff. Thanks dude.)
*At the end of Day 6 we drove our convoy north of Glendambo, desperate to find sun for an evening charge.  While passing a non-MIT vehicle, our truck hit an emu which later died. Nameless Emu, we apologize deeply…

Day 6 – Ain’t no sunshine

After an interesting night spent huddled up in tents, cars, and the trailer to shield ourselves from the downpours, we woke up to a miserable sight: heavy clouds and a reading of 0.166 Amps on the test solar cell on roof of our chase car. Needless to say we were not getting a morning charge, much less making the next checkpoint before closing.
So after some reluctance, we started off the morning with the car in the trailer – our first time since we had started the race some 1901 kilometres prior. We were all a bit disappointed to have to pack Chopper up inside, but pretty proud of how far we had gotten considering we had run the entire race on 16kg of lithium-ion cells (when rules allow 21kg) [Why? see this blog post] as well as faced some other significant hurdles.
Chopper del Sol underneath an overcast sky.
We did manage to get a brief charge in to drive further, increasing our solar kilometers travelled. Couple historical landmarks passed include Australia’s Dog Fence which, at 7000km, is the longest fence in the world. It keeps the wild dogs (dingos) out of sheep country in Southern Australia. With all that hype we were expecting something more dramatic, but turns out it was just a cattle grid and some barbed wire. We also passed a lot of opal mines along the way.
The weather remained dreadful all afternoon. We kept driving along, watching the Amp-hours consumed slowly increase on our battery pack. To show how rotten our luck has been, here a screen shot of the satellite imagery of the mass of clouds sitting mostly immobile above the Stuart Highway for today:
The clouds sitting over the Stuart Highway.
We’re camped out in Glendambo, some 600km north of the race finish, waiting for some sun tomorrow to hopefully power us through the finish to Adelaide. The forecast is looking good and we saw a couple stars tonight.
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