Students Build a Solar Car to Race in the Australian Outback

PHOTO: luminos, solar carPlayWesley Ford/Stanford Solar Car Project
WATCH Students Design Car Powered Entirely By the Sun

Hot off the heels of a solar plane making the final leg of its journey across the United States, the students behind the Stanford Solar Car Project began the final preparations for their own solar-powered, cross-country journey. They will compete against 46 other teams in the Great Solar Challenge, a 2,000-mile race in the Australian Outback.

Luminos, the official name of the group's solar car, is unlike other electric and solar cars available on the market today. Its sole purpose is to participate in the Great Solar Challenge. All of the vehicles in the race are engineered with victory in mind. Adding in elements that aren't essential to the car would drain unnecessary power and could potentially leave it stranded in the desert.

Wesley Ford, Luminos's team leader, said that more than half of the teams are unable to finish the World Solar Challenge each year.

"Some teams have cars that break down, while others are not able to complete the challenge in the allotted six days of racing," he told ABC News. "Those teams have to use trailers to bring their vehicles to the finish line in Adelaide."

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The group at Stanford University has participated in the race several times already. Ford said that rather than continuously tweaking a single design over and over, the group tends to start fresh each time.

"We build a brand new vehicle every two years dedicated entirely to the World Solar Challenge," he said.

However, they don't completely scrap the ideas of the previous generation. The group's last entry in the race, named Xenith, was made from relatively lightweight carbon fiber. Luminos, is made of the same material, resulting in a car that weighs about 375 pounds.

The design of the two cars look vastly different, though. Ford said that there was room for improvement on Xenith's design.

"We put a lot of emphasis on aerodynamic performance," he said. "We also tested our vehicle in a wind tunnel in North Carolina."

Efficiency is a key component to the design of the car, but it also applies to how it's driven. Nathan Golshan, the mechanical engineering team lead of the project, spoke to local ABC reporter Jonathan Bloom in Palo Alto, Calif.

"We go fast through the cloudy patch and slow through the sunny patch," he said. "We get the same average speed, but collect more sunlight."

While Luminos and the other vehicles in the race will have to deal with cloudy days, they won't have to drive in the dark.

"We race each day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. [The officials] stop the race each night," said Ford. "Wherever a team is at 5 p.m., they camp out for the night."