Race is On: University Solar Car Teams Compete in Austin

formula sun 2014

Beginning Monday, July 14, the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin hosted the nation’s two biggest collegiate solar car races — the Formula Sun Grand Prix and the American Solar Challenge.

About 20 student solar car teams from universities around the world including UT Austin, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Kaohsiung University of Applied Sciences were in Austin to compete in the two back-to-back competitions.

The student teams designed solar vehicles that use photovoltaic panels to convert the sun’s energy into electricity. These solar-powered cars can reach speeds of 40-50 miles per hour using only 1,200 watts of power — about two-thirds the amount of power it takes to run a hair dryer.

“We are thrilled to host students and faculty from across the world as they participate in these competitions,” said Sharon L. Wood, interim dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. “These races reinforce the skills and knowledge our engineering students gain throughout the year and offer them an exciting opportunity to design, build and test their technologies.”

For the second consecutive year, the Cockrell School and its Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering hosted the Formula Sun Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) Formula One racetrack July 14-19. The Formula Sun Grand Prix began with a series of qualifying events and inspections, called scrutineering. Only teams that successfully pass scrutineering can move forward to compete in a three-day endurance race on the COTA track. The team that logs the most laps after the three-day racing period wins.

In order to qualify for the next competition, teams competing in the Formula Sun event must complete a minimum number of laps at a minimum speed. This is so the team’s solar cars demonstrate that they can safely function on the highway during the American Solar Challenge.

After Formula Sun, the teams had a one-day break to gear up before embarking on the more than 1,100-mile drive from Austin to St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the American Solar Challenge, July 21-28.

A cross-country road race, the American Solar Challenge is intended to test the reliability and endurance of the solar cars’ systems in real-world driving conditions and weather. The team with the fastest elapsed time for completing the route is the winner.

The UT Solar Vehicles Team sponsors are COTA, Freescale Semiconductor, General Motors, Plantronics, SunPower, Texas Motor Sports, Union Pacific and the University Co-op.

Watch the UT Solar Vehicles Team on Texas Exes' show The Hook.

View Slideshow

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View photos from the 2014 Formula Sun Grand Prix and the starting line of the American Solar Challenge.