DETROIT — A sleek futuristic-looking vehicle — the University Solar Car Team’s newest model — was welcomed among the crowd of cheering race crew members, family and corporate sponsors who attended the car’s unveiling at the General Motors headquarters in Detroit this morning.
The shiny maize vehicle, named “Generation,” is the Solar Car Team’s latest creation. Since its inception in 1990, the team has enjoyed wide support from sponsors, GM and the College of Engineering.
Jon Lauckner, GM’s chief technology officer, spoke before the event about the confidence that the auto giant has in the solar team’s innovation, a belief that has carried its continued support of the team.
“I’m confident that the new University of Michigan solar car will be one of the most technologically advanced solar vehicles ever built,” Lauckner said. “(It is) the culmination of countless hours of dedicated work that I think will produce a piece of truly amazing technology.”
After speeches by additional sponsors — including Brian Noble, associate dean for undergraduate education at the College of Engineering and Dave Taylor, vice president of global marketing of Siemens PLM Software — the Solar Car team gathered around the encasement to reveal the model. Upon emerging, the vehicle drove to the center of the room.
Generation’s unveiling comes in anticipation of its participation in the World Solar Challenge, a massive four- to five-day solar car race that spans 3,000 kilometers across Australia during the fall.
Twenty-two members of the Solar Car team are scheduled to travel to Australia. There will be four drivers who will rotate in five- to six-hour periods, said Engineering senior Matt Goldstein, head strategist for the project. The drivers can expect to face an inside environment of about 30 degrees above the outside temperature, making for a toasty ordeal in the Australian heat.
Engineering sophomore Pavan Naik, business development manager, said the team is unable to elaborate on the vehicle’s speed for fear of over-sharing specifics with competitors, but added that they are constrained by roads’ posted speed limits.
Among the challenges that the car’s engineers faced was accounting for a sweeping set of regulations recently set forth by the competition. This year, competing cars have been required to add a fourth wheel, place the driver in an upright position and incorporate a greater field of vision.
“Those were sort of the three big challenges thrown at us,” Goldstein said. “From there we just tried a whole bunch of different concepts and we believe that the one we have now is sort of the best concept for tackling those challenges.”
In terms, of speed and efficiency, spectators will likely not notice much of a difference from last year’s Quantum model, with the updates instead focused on incorporating these new regulations.
“Having that fourth wheel is a big big difference,” Goldstein said. “It would normally make it slower… (but) we believe this concept is going to compensate for those changes as best as possible.”
Despite the extra challenges, Goldstein said the crew feels extremely confident going into the race. The University’s Solar Car Team has won the past seven national championships as well as achieving five top three finishes in Australia.
There are mixed feelings among creators and investors about the future implications of the solar car. While the technology is being embraced by both software and automotive companies — GM among them — the vehicle for now remains a phenomenon of engineering competitions.
Goldstein said the team’s main focus remains on creating a highly efficient and innovative vehicle that will be internationally competitive in the world of science and engineering as opposed to turning those ideas into everyday technology.
However both Taylor and Lauckner expressed excitement over the way the innovation that is being explored can become applicable.
“We’re now trying to help companies around the world try to solve really complicated technical challenges around the topic of mobility,” Taylor said. “What the U of M team here is doing fits right in to that. We’re really looking forward to see … what we can learn from them in their use of the technology that will help us help our customers.”
Speaking on behalf of the team at the unveiling, LSA senior Bryan Mazor emphasized the crew’s confidence in both their hard work and their technological innovation seen in the finished result.
“Like any competitive team we represent something more,” Mazor said. “We’re going to wear the block M on our chest, we’re going to have our sponsors on our car, we’re going to be competing (against) the best teams of the world, representing Michigan.”