IBM to Provide Weather Forecasting Technology to Assist U-M Solar Car Team in World Competition

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IBM Research today announced it will assist the University of Michigan Solar Car Team to predict weather conditions such as cloud cover and wind patterns — critical for racing success — at the upcoming World Solar Challenge this month in Australia. 

"Predicting solar radiation plays a huge part in designing a strategy for solar car racing,” says Leda Daehler, chief strategist on the U-M Solar Car Team. “IBM's forecasting technology will help our team adapt and optimize our approach in real-time, and we expect it to provide a true advantage over the course of the race."

Daehler says because the car is powered completely by solar power, more accurate wind and cloud cover forecasts will help the team decide how to drive their car more efficiently to improve their chances of winning.

The U-M Solar Car Team will race its car, Aurum, in the World Solar Challenge starting Oct. 18, an 1,800-mile, four-day race across the Australian Outback. The system developed by IBM plots the location and the transparency of clouds, so the team can decide the speed the car should go to get maximum solar energy. Simulations have shown that this technique could gain the team up to 15 minutes per day.

IBM Research uses a mix of data from sensor networks, local weather stations, sky cameras, and satellite observations to forecast weather conditions. IBM developed the technology through a program supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative to find new ways to improve the accuracy of solar forecasts as solar resources are increasingly integrated into the nation's energy grid. 

“In the past, we have not been able to capture and analyze the variety and amount of cloud data needed to confidently impact our race strategy," says Pavan Naik, program manager for the U-M Solar Car Team. "This year, IBM's solar forecasting technology will allow us to know where the clouds are, where they are going, and where we should go faster in order to chase the sun."

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