Some summertime solar fun

The Stark Enterprises solar car. Photo by Jen Love.

The Stark Enter­prises solar car. Photo by Jen Love.

The problem is that islanders on the Solomon Islands in remote vil­lages walk two to three hours to col­lect kerosene for their lamps and cooking stoves, time they could be using to grow crops or do other pro­duc­tive work.”

Those are the words written at the top of a handout given to all freshman engi­neering stu­dents that take Engi­neering Design during the “summester.” At the end of their course, they’re asked to bring together every­thing they’ve learned – engi­neering design process, solar pho­to­voltaics, man­u­fac­turing and assembly, mate­rials, 3D printing, AutoCAD and Solid­works to name a few — to engi­neer a solar pow­ered model car that can trans­port a cup of water across a thirty foot track. The project is sup­posed to be a “pro­to­type analogy” of an actual design that Solomon Islanders could use to trans­port kerosene from a town to their remote village.

And of course, since nothing is as moti­va­tional as a little healthy com­pe­ti­tion, the stu­dents race their cars against one another.

The stu­dents can spend no more than $20 on their cars and they have to follow a series of design spec­i­fi­ca­tions. For one, the solar panel, which is pro­vided, has to be remov­able and adjustable, so it can be directed toward the sun wher­ever it hap­pens to be on race day. There is no bat­tery pack or other energy storage device, so what the solar panel sees is what the solar panel gets: At the begin­ning of the race the panel is cov­ered with an opaque sheet and then when the whistle blows it begins col­lecting energy from the sun to imme­di­ately power the motor.

Being able to take our ideas and designs from paper and make them into some­thing that really worked was extremely cool,” one stu­dent reflected.

There’s no better way to learn about the engi­neering design process than get­ting hands-​​on expe­ri­ence,” said another.

The cars are on dis­play in the Snell Engi­neering building in the Stu­dent Ser­vices Office if you want to go take a look. Here’s a video of the high action event to whet your palate: