A new textbook by the advisor to the University of Missouri-Rolla’s championship Solar Car Team may help level the playing field in solar car races by teaching students to focus on what matters, such as making their cars energy efficient.
"You have to understand the problem," says Dr. Douglas Carroll, UMR’s Solar Car Team advisor and professor of basic engineering. "There are a million things you can do to design a solar car, and most of them don’t make much difference in the final performance of the car. You have to understand what matters, where to focus your energy. The book helps students understand what really matters the most when making a fast car."
Carroll wrote The Winning Solar Car A Design Guide for Solar Race Car Teams based on his experiences as advisor of a student group that designed and built six solar cars over the last 10 years. Published in October, it is the first textbook written that is suitable for an engineering course in solar car design, says Carroll.
"There were about eight really good cars in the 2003 American Solar Challenge out of the 20 eight teams that were doing a good job," says Carroll. "None of us did everything perfect of course, but the other 12 could have benefited a lot from the advice in this textbook." UMR’s Solar Miner IV won last summer’s 2,300-mile American Solar Challenge, finishing nearly five hours ahead of the second-place team.
"We were not a very strong team in the beginning because we were not doing the right things to build a good car," says Carroll. "I see a lot of new teams doing just what we did worrying about things that don’t matter and not worrying about the things that really do matter."
Carroll says solar car teams should focus on developing an energy-efficient chassis and main electrical power system. "It’s all efficiency, because there’s very little energy available from the sun. Everything you do, you have to be energy efficient," says Carroll. "Then to get the performance up, you have to have good aerodynamics and good controls."
The textbook, published by the Society of Automotive Engineers, evolved from handwritten notes Carroll starting using in 1998 to teach the Solar Car Design course as there was no textbook available.
"The biggest benefit (to a solar car team) would be for a faculty member at a school to offer the course, and this makes a good textbook," says Carroll. "If you can get a core of students that really understand what’s required, that makes a big difference."
The Winning Solar Car A Design Guide for Solar Race Car Teams is available online from the Society of Automotive Engineers as well as from other online booksellers.