Stanford Solar Car Project unveils new car

July 15, 2013, 11:55 p.m.

Featuring greater energy efficiency and handling than previous designs – while weighing in at only 375 pounds – Luminos, this year’s million-dollar product of the Stanford Solar Car Project, was unveiled last Friday, just a few weeks before the car is to be shipped to the Australian outback to compete in the World Solar Challenge.

The event, a weeklong endeavor contested over 2000 miles, will see Luminos compete against the work of 46 other teams from more than 26 countries. Around 20 Stanford team members will join the car in Australia at the start of fall quarter for testing and some equipment construction before the event begins on Oct. 6.

Increased reliability, stability

Compared to Xenith, last year’s model, Luminos offers greater reliability, according to Aarush Selvan ’16, the team’s media relations manager.

“Xenith was a pretty revolutionary design because it had a very flat, aerodynamic shape and a special glass encapsulation that hadn’t been done before,” Selvan said. “It also had reflective coating in the glass which really made the solar arrays able to take in a lot more energy.”

That flat shape, however, made Xenith more vulnerable to changes in its angle of attack.

The team also added a fourth wheel to Luminos for safety purposes and developed a lower and more curved body to maintain the vehicle’s aerodynamics. Group members tested the efficacy of the modifications through 700 miles of test runs in the Central Valley shortly before the media unveiling.

A demanding challenge

According to Gregory Hall ’13, the team’s engineering leader, most involved students will take the entire quarter off in order to focus exclusively on the competition.

“Ninety-five percent of the students will just take the quarter off when they come to Australia and then travel afterwards,” Hall said. “You’re allowed a two-year leave of absence so you can take up to six quarters off with no consequence pretty much.”

Hall emphasized team members’ investment to date in the project, with tasks from improving the car’s design and reliability to conducting hundreds of miles of test runs taking up much of the summer and even the academic year.

“I would say 20 students, 14 months, 20 to 40 hours a week,” Hall estimated the amount of time spent working on the car. “It’s a lot [of hours].

An expensive endeavor

The project’s team both received – garnering $1 million in sponsorship from Stanford departments and corporate donations – and spent significant sums, including investing $80,000 in virtual computer-aided design models of modifications.

“It’s a very expensive project,” Selvan said, “but it’s kind of remarkable that 20 Stanford students have the freedom to run such a big budget and build this project.”

“It’s the kind of atmosphere where they give you a problem and you’re basically left alone to figure out how to do it,” Selvan added, noting that older team members regularly mentor younger colleagues. “You have to use your own ingenuity but the older mentors are always there to advise if you really need it.”

With just a few weeks left before Luminos and team members depart for Australia, the project’s efforts have focused on further testing to ensure the vehicle works perfectly.

“We’re pretty close to the end now,” Selvan said.

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