Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan Prepares Solar Car for Oregon Trail Race


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The U-M Solar Car Team will race Novum, a solar vehicle, next week in the 2018 American Solar Challenge.

Photo courtesy of University of Michigan

Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan Solar Car Team will race Novum, the school’s smallest and most aerodynamic solar vehicle, next week in the 2018 American Solar Challenge in hopes of taking home the school’s seventh consecutive win.

The nine-day, 1,700-mile race runs from Nebraska to Oregon and starts July 14.

Novum is coming off the team’s most successful race finish – it placed second in the World Solar Challenge in Australia in 2017. The vehicle is bullet-shaped and has only one hull, which is a departure from the proven catamaran design that dominates the field. It is the only car like it in the challenge.

The race will cross the Rocky Mountains, which is much different that running across the flat Australian desert. The team is also different than the one that raced in Australia.

“This year’s race has a total elevation change of about 1,000 meters, which is a new thing for Novum that significantly alters the way we strategize our race,” says Chae Woo Lim, a mechanical engineering junior who is the team’s engineering director and crew chief. “This was always on our minds as we prepared, and something that stuck out to me when we first learned of the route. But it’s a challenge we can handle.”

A small supplemental solar array allows the car to recharge faster when it stops but is stored when the car is moving. The team had to adjust Novum’s roll cage and canopy to comply with race regulations, requiring additional testing to ensure the changes didn’t compromise race performance.

This year’s team is young, and only Lim has prior race experience. The team took a test run to practice checkpoint procedures, array pointing procedures, and radio protocol.

“With only one member who has race and manufacturing experience, we feel a real sense of accomplishment with how effective we are on the road now,” says Noah Bearman, a senior studying computer science and project manager. “There’s no better feeling than seeing Novum pull away and roll all day without a problem. Ask anyone on the team and they will tell you the same — it didn’t come free. We have worked tirelessly to get here and won’t stop until we bring that trophy home again for Michigan.”

The U-M Solar Car Team is made up of students from a variety of disciplines. They design, build, and race a completely solar-powered electric vehicle. The team has a 28-year history that includes nine wins in the American Solar Challenge and six podium finishes in the World Solar Challenge.

The race starts at 8 a.m. July 14 in Omaha, Neb., and ends July 22 in Bend, Ore. Cars are expected to cross the finish line between 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

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