My interest in the solar car team began from something silly: seeing Sunrunner at a football game in 1990. It took another five and a half years before being given the nudge to show up for a mass meeting. The result of which was working on three cars and five races. The attraction of the team was the friendships made and the different roles filled while working towards a common goal.
One of the defining characteristics of the team is we never quit or give up. In 1997 the upper surface was too flexible, and it caused havoc with the solar array. During the practice race, the array degraded to the point where it was no longer productive to continue and instead we headed home. In one week we had scraped the old array off and were laying down new strings of cells. The new array was not as powerful as the old one was supposed to be, but not showing up to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was never an option. Similarly in 2001 when the car was destroyed in an accident a few weeks before last chance qualifiers there was never a choice. We would rebuild the car and we would race it. Sure, we had problems during the race. We started near the middle of the pack because we were working out the kinks in our new car. On the first day of the race before the first media stop, we pulled into a parking lot to resolve a telemetry issue: our array was either not working or the telemetry was not functioning. A few basic checks later, we disconnected the offending device and resolved to fix it later. The accident caused all sorts of other problems. The focus of the strategy team went from further studying the car’s capabilities to building a new one. Without a car, we were without jobs. Those early problems during the race left us nervous. When we made it to the media stop in Flagstaff, AZ with officials complaining about how we were out running the race and straining their logistics, it was a fantastic feeling. We started the day in Albuquerque, NM going 50mph uphill in to overcast skies and we finished the day at the highest point in the race with one “real” day left and 50% charge in the batteries. The next morning on the drive down to Barstow, CA we had to shut down two of the most powerful array modules because we’d overcharge the batteries. From such lows barely a month before, to the highs of knowing our nearly 90 minute lead all but guaranteed victory. However, with a battery pack near full it meant the car had a lot of potential we failed to tap.
My experience with solar car has not translated to my career. On the team, there was little incentive to hold back. If things weren’t as good as they could be, there were real consequences. People literally put their lives on the line, and there is always a constant battle between performance, reliability, robustness and safety. If the car can’t reliably go down the road you won’t win. If it isn’t robust to handle the things we can’t imagine, it won’t finish. If it isn’t safe, instead of celebrating victory we may be visiting an hospital or attending a funeral. All the while, you want to win. Everything you do you want to be towards that goal. In the working world, the customer practically begs to be lied to. If you’re not “all green” on the technical side of a competitive bid you’re going to be thrown out. I have had the displeasure of showing, with analytical data, why a customer’s requirements weren’t feasible and detailing issues we found in their product. We were thrown out of the bid process. It was later learned the customer had analyzed the submitted proposals and their chosen “winner” had lied about their technical capability to meet the requirements. The bid process started over. There is so little trust in industry today it’s disheartening. As an analyst, the best we can do is continue to be honest with our work. Provide the best analytical product possible so we avoid costly mistakes. We have to perform the same basic task of comparing models to data and learning, just like we did when developing the simulation code. We can’t stop pushing the boundary of what we know or challenging what we think we know. On MaizeBlaze we thought we knew how to bond aluminum to composites. When the car came into the pits at qualifiers at a funny attitude, we were proven wrong. Some things really don’t ever change.
This post was written by former Solar Car member, Russ Moerland.
Although this was my first year attending the Auto Show with the Solar Car Team, I have learned from older members that each year brings an assortment of funny questions and encounters. Nevertheless, however amusing some questions may seem, our team always respects and encourages everyone’s interest. A few of the more notable ones with our prepared responses were:
- Is it a boat? It is actually a solar car. Believe it or not, there are three wheels, and it can travel quite fast.
- Does it fly? No, Quantum doesn’t fly. It’s just any old solar car…
- Is it a hovercraft? Alas, it’s not. A hovercraft would be very cool, almost as cool as a solar car.
- Can I drive that to work? That would be ideal – we might sell it for around $2 million.
And to add to the fun, I can’t forget to mention a group of two middle-aged couples, who were really “enjoying” the night, that came up to my fellow teammates and me and asked us to autograph their Solar Car pamphlet. One woman was truly interested in following the team, so as I took the pen and signed my name, I was sure to write down the dates of ASC in the probable case that they couldn’t remember the next day. Regardless of who stopped by or what questions were asked, it was a pleasure for our team to share our story, and we always welcome new followers.
When not out racing on the open road or putting in lap times at a track, Quantum sits safely in the Wilson Center, where it receives constant attention from the team as we prepare for the 2012 American Solar Challenge. However, working on a completed car poses its challenges – among them, how to access the insides of the car without damaging the solar cells above. On races, the team can simply hold the upper surface or attach it to the array stand, but both of these options require people to be present at all times. To solve this problem, the team has historically built a special rack to hold the upper surface, while allowing a lower chassis to be rolled underneath. Such a rack had been built into the ceiling of our old workspace in Ypsilanti, but couldn’t be brought to our new home in the Wilson Center.
To solve this problem, the team set about building a new rack this past fall. Most of the design and construction duties were handed off to new members of the team as an opportunity to gain some hands-on experience in mechanical engineering and manufacturing.
Older team members were surveyed during construction, and the final approved design met all of their criteria for functionality, capacity, stability, manufacturability, and compliance with building codes. Engineering drawings in hand, we went looking for materials. We didn’t have the materials in-stock, but Alro Metals Plus of Ann Arbor generously agreed to help us out. After a quick trip to their fantastically well-stocked warehouse, we had the exact sizes of steel tubes we needed and could start manufacturing.
With all joints welded together and beams cut to length, we performed a dry-fitting of the rack and immediately realized we had a problem of aesthetics: the bare-steel joints were a dull grey, and the long cross-member beams had arrived from Alro coated in a durable, dark red-colored primer. Being proud Wolverines, the Scarlet-and-Grey did not sit well with the team, or anyone else in the Wilson Center. Luckily, Rust-oleum had been kind enough to donate a large amount of spray paint this past spring to assist in our preparations for the World Solar Challenge. We had just enough of their paint left to add a vibrant Maize-and-Blue finish to the rack. With that taken care of, we got down to assembly.
We’re very pleased with how this project turned out, and are looking forward to getting many years of use out of it. Our thanks go out again to Alro Metals Plus, Rust-oleum, and all of the Wilson Center welding trainers for their advice and assistance.
Post and photos by Operations Director Aaron Frantz, who had forgotten how much more laborious it is to drill holes in steel than in aluminum.
Tuesday’s general team meeting exuded the ambitious attitude of the next several months leading up to ASC. Both race manager, Jordan Feight, and project manager, Eric Hausman, led the way as all divisions are embarking upon new projects.
Engineering is retrospectively examining certain aspects of the car, such as the micro system and the fairings, that caused some difficulty in WSC. Strategy is awaiting the exact ASC route (the general path of the race can be seen here), which is expected to be released in the next week. From there, the strategists can begin the long and arduous process of route survey. The Business division plans to get in contact with previous sponsors and to seek out new ones. Operations has assembled a new structure in the Wilson Center – for a more detailed description, check tomorrow’s post. Finally, after the meeting concluded, the team took a tour of the car with WSC race crew member, Troy Halm, as the guide. Another busy week of work is ahead.
For the past two weeks, the team has been exhibiting Quantum at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. We’ve had a lot of fun educating the public about solar racing and solar technology (plus seeing all of the newest motor cars!), but all good things must come to an end. The show closed Sunday night, and Quantum was quickly brought back to the Wilson Center so that preparations could begin for the 2012 American Solar Challenge.
We’d like to thank everyone who stopped by our exhibit, including alumni, sponsors, and curious onlookers of all ages. We’d especially like to thank Vanessa Bishop-Diggs at the Michigan Econonic Development Corporation, Gary Novak and the team at Omnitec Solutions, Jen Wegner from the University of Michigan College of Engineering, Carol Hagen and the Garage Services staff at the U-M Parking and Transportation Services, Lauren Arnold from the Fulkerson Group, and Marilyn Doebler, Kathy Neumann, and Mary Wondero from the Detroit Auto Dealers Association. We couldn’t have made this possible without all of their support.
After graduation, Greg Thompson was in the Navy for five years as a submarine officer, but he says that being on Solar Car was far tougher. While on the boat, there was a shower, his own bed, and four meals a day. However, during testing, race route practice, and the race itself, such amenities were hard to come by. Despite the daily hardships, Greg will never forget his experiences as a member on Michigan’s 2001 Solar Car team.
Greg joined the team because he was shopping around for an extracurricular that really utilized being a part of Michigan’s engineering campus. He wasn’t sold immediately, but after several meetings and a visit to the workspace, he couldn’t resist the reality and the application to the real world which Solar Car offered. He realized that “there would be no, ‘oh well, guess that didn’t work’ factor. The consequences were serious and that made it all very exciting.”
Greg’s major was electrical engineering; however, on the team, he refers to his role as a “wrench monkey and all around lout.” He also drove the lead van and part of the road side crew and enjoyed every moment. His favorite memory was no trouble to recall: crossing the finish line in California. Furthermore, he shares, ”I miss working with a highly motivated, close-knit team of individuals striving towards something awesome. I think I may have been spoiled early in my life.”
While on the team, he witnessed one of the Solar Car’s most inspiring moments. Seventeen days before the race, while driving the lead van, Greg saw M-Pulse swerve and go off the road from his rear view mirror. What was most amazing and memorable for him was the team meeting held later that night. The decision of whether or not to race had to be made immediately since the race was about two weeks away. At this point Greg reflects, “There were two options: fold it up and go home recognizing that these things happen, and there was no reason to hang our heads. The other option was to rebuild the car and race. What I remember most was the subtle but profound discussion of the latter option. In discussing it, there was very little conversation of whether it would be possible or precisely how we would do it. Not being part of the team leadership, I may have been insulated from such conversations, but I remember the discussion centering on whether we would rebuild and race, not whether or not we could. That subtle difference made all the difference.” Having experienced such a great success in Solar Car’s history, Greg’s advice to the current team is this: never stop pushing.
After voting took place at last week’s GTM, the results are in. The 2013 Project Executive Committee is:
- Project Manager – Eric Hausman
- Engineering Director – Cole Witte
- Strategy Director – Bryan Mazor
- Operations Director – Aaron Frantz
And the ASC 2012 Race Committee is:
- Race Crew Manager – Jordan Feight
- Crew Chief – Ryan Mazur
- Head Strategist – AJ Trublowski
Congratulations to our elected leaders. We will be featuring our new leaders on the blog in the next several weeks.
It only makes sense to meet alums Saaj and Alicia Shah together. That’s how you would meet them in person, after all, since they’re virtually inseparable and have been since they met on the team in 2001.
They tell some stories and banter at one another with past memories:
- “Remember when you tried out to be driver — you’re a terrible
- “Remember when you tried to throw a watermelon to the top of the semi
trailer? — It went about 10 inches up and then fell on the ground!”
- “Remember when we won that karaoke contest in Australia singing ‘Love
- “Remember when you got Google to sponsor the team but all they sent us
were hundreds of free boxers and license plate covers? … I still have a
pair of those boxers.”
Then, things get serious:
“Solar car was such an amazing experience because we had a great team. We all cared a lot about doing a good job so we worked hard. But we had fun at the same time: We had fun welding tabs on solar cells (which is pretty dry work). We placed bets on whether we could get sponsors. It taught us that working hard and having fun aren’t mutually exclusive. And learning to work hard and have fun set us up to enjoy our ‘real jobs’ today.”
Alicia and Saaj say that the thing they love the most about being alums is the pride they have in the new teams.
“Michigan has a phenomenal team every year. Certainly, the team has a competitive doggedness that can’t be matched. But they’ve also been known to go out their way to lend parts and help out teams that might be in a jam. This professional tenacity is the mark of a Michigan solar car team.”
And they note that UM solar car alums are insta-friends: “When we moved to Chicago, we didn’t know what other alums lived in the area. In the first year, we had found them and now we hang out for backyard BBQS and sushi parties. Insta-friends. It’s great.”
Then, they laugh about their alumni status together:
“So, what are we now?”
“Solar car enthusiasts, I guess”
“So, we’re like Chuck?”
[Laughing] “Certainly Chuck is in a class all his own.”
It’s that time of the year again: time for our team to appear at the annual North American International Auto Show. Starting tomorrow, January 14th, 2012, the show will be open to the general public until the 22nd. With Quantum back in the states, a new display, and months of preparation, our car will be showcased in Michigan Hall on the lower level of the Cobo center. Team members will be available at our display at all times to answer any questions you may have or if you are interested in learning more about us and what we do. So, while you’re admiring the new Fords, Chryslers, and Chevys please stop by our exhibit and show your support!