More than 300 fans, sponsors and Michigan residents packed into the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn on Friday afternoon for the unveiling of the University Solar Car Team’s latest vehicle: Infinium.
The Solar Car Team is a student group that has funded and constructed its own solar-powered car for national and international races since 1990. It is comprised of 24 undergraduate and graduate students throughout various University schools.
The University’s team is among the elite, winning five of the past nine North American Solar Challenge races — a solar car event that pits various American and Canadian universities in a race across North America.
Jeffrey Ferman, a University alum and a former member of the Solar Car Team alum, said he went to the unveiling because of his belief in the team’s potential.
“They’re closer than a lot of the teams that I’ve been on in the past, and this is still months away from the race,” Ferman said.
During the hour-long presentation, team members, faculty and supporters of the Solar Car Team talked about the team’s history, its significance for the University and the hours of work the team put into Infinium, for which production began in fall of 2007.
College of Engineering senior Alex Dowling, head strategist for the team, said the design philosophy for Infinium was drawn from scratch but incorporated improvements fro its predecessor, Continuum.
“Our team prides ourselves on the fact that we always redesign,” Dowling said. “We take lessons learned from the previous teams, but there’s always a redesign process.”
Dowling said Infinium is one of the best cars the Solar Car Team has ever produced. In addition to reducing the car’s weight and making the body more aerodynamic, the team enabled Infinium to travel more than 200 miles without sunlight.
College of Engineering senior John Federspiel, the team’s crew chief, said one of the team’s major goals was to finish Infinium as early as possible — something the team was able to accomplish.
The team finished Infinium one month earlier than it took to complete Continuum, and unlike its predecessor, Infinium was already drivable at the unveiling.
Both Dowling and Federspiel attributed much of the team’s current success to the members’ healthy work dynamic.
Federspiel said members from the team’s sub-departments were willing to work numerous late nights in order to finish Infinium.
“We’ve really bonded well as a leadership body, and we’ve learned from the dynamic conflicts we’ve had in the past,” Federspiel said. “Everyone respected each other, (but) we might not have understood each other’s work, and now I think there’s been a good effort and a strong effort to try and understand what everyone does.”
Despite the Solar Car Team’s progress, the team still had its work cut out for it. Currently, the team is preparing Infinium for the Global Green Challenge in October.
During the six-day challenge the Solar Car Team will race against 50 other teams from around the world on an 1,800-mile course across the Australian outback.
The team plans to test Infinium through a variety of different simulations — including a mock race — during the summer to prepare before its shipment to Australia in September.
Federspiel said the team is confident the car will do well in the upcoming race.
“Based on the numbers that we’ve seen (and) based on some of the new innovations that we’ve (added) on (to) this car, I think we definitely are a top competitor,” he said. “I can’t say first or anything like that, obviously, but I know we’ll be one of the favorites going in.”