Over the last year, a group of North­eastern Uni­ver­sity engi­neering stu­dents built a solar-​​powered boat not only to com­pete in a national col­le­giate com­pe­ti­tion, but also to shed light on the poten­tial of green technology.

Mechan­ical engi­neering stu­dents Brent Sisson, Brian Arena, Westy Ford, John Leo and Andrew Gawlak designed and con­structed the boat from scratch. Last fall, they built the hull and con­ducted float tests in the Cabot Center pool. Later, they added the solar panel system, the pro­peller, the elec­trical system, steering capa­bil­i­ties and a dri­ve­train devel­oped by a dif­ferent group of engi­neering stu­dents for their senior cap­stone project.

The stu­dents put in months of hard work to over­come a series of chal­lenges, which included incor­po­rating and retro­fitting com­pli­cated com­po­nents and scram­bling to fix a snapped dri­ve­train a week before the Solar Splash com­pe­ti­tion in Iowa last month.

North­eastern fin­ished 15th out of 22 teams overall, but placed 8th in the sprint event.

We had the men­tality that no matter what hap­pened, we were going to go there, even if it meant fixing the boat on the trailer on the ride out,” said Sisson, who was intro­duced to the project a couple of years ago at a meeting of the North­eastern chapter of the Amer­ican Society of Mechan­ical Engineers.

According to Sisson, win­ning the com­pe­ti­tion was sec­ondary to inte­grating solar tech­nology into recre­ational boating.

As he put it, “The point was to push green tech­nology in a way it hasn’t gone before. “It’s great to go to the race, but there were broader appli­ca­tions we wanted to consider.”

Engi­neering pro­fessor Richard Whalen, who served as the fac­ulty advisor for the project, called the expe­ri­ence an over­whelming suc­cess, and the stu­dents were ded­i­cated to learning as much as pos­sible in Northeastern’s first time com­peting in the annual event.

It was a great sys­tems engi­neering expe­ri­ence for the stu­dents, and it was an oppor­tu­nity to apply the things they’ve learned in the class­room and on co-​​op,” said Whalen, who noted that stu­dents are already thinking of ways to improve next year’s boat.

Sisson hopes to pass the torch to other green-​​focused engi­neering stu­dents. “I’d really love to come back here in five years and see that the solar boat is doing well,” he said.