Engineering Students Will Race Across Country in the American Solar Challenge 2022

Students design and build vehicles powered by the sun for a multi-day endurance rally.

(Image Credit: AmericanSolarChallenge | Flickr.)

(Image Credit: AmericanSolarChallenge | Flickr.)

The American Solar Challenge (ASC) is a multi-day event that brings together collegiate-level solar car teams from all around the world to compete. The event takes place over sixteen days in July and offers several different categories. The events include the Formula Sun Grand Prix track event, and an endurance ASC road event that traces the Oregon Trail. Teams may compete in Single-Occupant Vehicle (SOV) or Multi-Occupant Vehicle (MOV) races.

The event has grown over the years. It started back in 1990 with just the road event, and was known as Sunrayce USA. The event was created by GM after their success in winning the first World Solar Challenge in 1987. Instead of continuing to compete, they used their experience to encourage students to design and build solar-powered vehicles.

The name of the event changed to American Solar Challenge in 2001, which also marked the introduction of higher mileage events and multi-day stage races. Some of these races lasted as long as ten to eleven days. In 2010, the events were shortened to two-day stage events to keep the racers closer. This allowed for better public viewing and increased camaraderie among the student teams.

However, the biggest change in the format was the introduction of Grand Prix racing in 2000. This track event requires not only quality engineering by the team, but makes the driver and pit crew an integral part of the team’s success. Skilled drivers, quick pit stops and flawless passing strategies will give this year’s teams the edge they will need to win.

The event is sure to be very rewarding for all the students involved. Participating students gain applied knowledge in engineering as well as vital practical career skills such as project management. Most teams require two years to complete building their vehicle, which is why the ASC is designed as a bi-annual event.

Because of the large scope of the challenge, the skills that students learn go far beyond engineering alone. Each team operates like a small business, and to help fund their project, students must be skilled in fundraising and public relations. Simply attending the event has logistical challenges that the students must overcome, such as coordinating hotels, meals, laundry and rental cars to get to the team members to the event. In addition, they need to coordinate the transport of their solar car and any equipment they will need on-site to maintain and support their vehicle.

Registration for this year’s event ended in November 2021. At this point, the teams are submitting reports and documents to ensure that they meet the race qualifications and specifications. Spectators can already start to track the progress of their favorite team on the ASC 2022 Status Board. The page tracks the teams’ progress as they submit the necessary design reports and other documentation to the organizers. As the student teams work is approved, the status page updates to show their progress.

Traveler I – Southern California Solar Car Team from USC Viterbi School of Engineering

One promising team is the Southern California Solar Car team from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Their solar race car will be the first-ever designed and built at USC. As of this writing, the status board shows that they are on track to meet all of the requirements in the SOV class and are expecting to be good to go by July’s race. Their team website does not currently provide much insight into their design—perhaps so as to not tip their hand to their fellow competitors. However, the team’s Instagram gave a sneak peek at the sleek design of their chassis.

(Image Credit: Instagram | uscsolarcar.)

(Image Credit: Instagram | uscsolarcar.)

The SC Solar Car Team’s project manager Jack Carroll did an interview with the USC Virterbi School of Engineering where he shared some information about the team’s vehicle. The solar car, named Traveler I, is expected to reach a top speed of 40 mph. The roof of the vehicle is being kept flat to maximize the surface area available for solar panels.

Traveler 1 is 15 feet long and 6 feet wide, so there will be plenty of room for solar panels, all of which will be assembled by the students themselves. “A lot of top teams with tons of funding and sponsors will pay a company to manufacture the solar array for the car,” Carroll explains. “That makes a more reliable, higher-performing product, but we take pride in the process we’ve developed to assemble and encapsulate every panel that goes on our car.”

Nimbus – Solar Electric Vehicle Team from MIT

The SC Solar Car team will be facing some stiff competition. MIT’s Solar Electric Vehicle Team (SEVT) is attending the ASC again this year. MIT has a lot of experience building solar cars. Their team has been designing solar race cars since 1988 and has won numerous races, including the last ASC race in the SOV category. Their previous vehicle, Nimbus, featured an asymmetric aeroshell design based on a catamaran, with a drag coefficient of approximately 0.14. The chassis comprised an aluminum honeycomb/carbon fiber composite to keep the vehicle light. The Numbus also had a top speed of 40 mph.

(Image courtesy of MIT Solar.)

(Image courtesy of MIT Solar.)

SEVT will continue to use the Nimbus design for the ASC 2022 race in the SOV class. According to their website, the team hopes to defend their title before pivoting to the MOV class vehicle category. So, the students have a lot riding on this year’s race!

ROSE – Team Sunergy from Appalachian State University

The current reigning champion in the MOV class is Appalachian State University’s Team Sunergy. Their vehicle, ROSE (Racing on Solar Energy), looks more like a classic sports car than a solar racer. It has a top speed of 60 mph, a peak cruising speed of 55 mph, and a range of 300 miles before it needs to be charged. As the vehicle is in the MOV class, it has two seats—and the students report that it is quite spacious. (It even has two cup holders!)

(Image courtesy of Sunergy.)

(Image courtesy of Sunergy.)

ROSE was designed and built entirely in-house by the student team. It was built with a honeycomb chassis and a carbon fiber aeroshell to keep the vehicle lightweight. However, this light car still has a lot of traction with its double wishbone suspension. The vehicle is covered with 326 monocrystalline solar cells and features a regenerative braking system.

Elysia – Solar Car Team from University of Calgary

In the MOV class, this author must admit to high hopes for my hometown’s entry: The Schulich Elysia designed by the Solar Car Team at the University of Calgary. Their team is known for designing the first cruiser class solar racing car in Canada. The Elysia design has already won the 2019 ASC race in the MOV class. Perhaps they can reclaim some of the glory again this year.

(Image Courtesy of Calgary Solar Car.)

(Image Courtesy of Calgary Solar Car.)

The 2019 design specs of Elysia featured 318 monocrystalline solar cells, a carbon fiber shell and a double wishbone suspension. It will be interesting to see if and how the specs are changed up for this year’s race.

Counting Down to Race Day in July 2022

This July will see all the students’ designs and hard work put to the test. The Formula Sun Grand Prix will take place July 1st to 16th in Topeka, KS. However, you might have a better shot of seeing the ASC road event as the students race across five states tracing the Oregon Trail. They will set off in Missouri and make their way to Idaho. Regardless of who wins, it is sure to be an unforgettable event for all of the students and will serve to inspire future engineering students to participate.