College Students Make Solar Racer Project a Reality

By Christenson, Sig | The Florida Times Union, June 15, 1997 | Go to article overview

College Students Make Solar Racer Project a Reality


Christenson, Sig, The Florida Times Union


TALLAHASSEE -- At $67,000, the single-seater dubbed Reality is a

no-frills car that looks like a midget submarine and drives like

a quiet gocart.

It sports a lightweight frame, flimsy blue fiberglass body,

matchbox-shaped bicycle speedometer and a top speed of 45 to 50

mph.

If this sounds like Yugo-style automaking, look on the bright

side: The bowling ball-sized 22-horsepower electric engine is

guaranteed to shred your monthly gasoline bill.

"I guess fuel economywise, it doesn't really hold that much

fuel," Florida State electrical engineering senior David Bryant

said. "And it uses it 100 percent more efficiently than a

gasoline-powered engine."

That's but one idea behind Reality, a solar- and battery-powered

car designed and built over the past two years by dozens of

students in Florida A&M and Florida State universities' jointly

operated engineering school in Tallahassee.

The creators of this teardrop-shaped car not only admit it isn't

practical, they also concede it probably won't finish first

among a field of 39 other similar vehicles in an upcoming

cross-country race featuring some of the brightest college

engineering students in North America.

The 1,250-mile race begins at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Thursday and finishes in Colorado Springs, Colo., nine days

later.

But they say winning Sunrayce 97, which is billed as one of the

world's largest solar-powered car races, isn't really the point.

Florida State mechanical engineering senior Walter Grimes, 28,

said the "the idea of building a car from scratch is a lot more

important than the actual race."

FAMU electrical engineering senior Alvin Collins, 21, sees the

project as the ultimate final exam.

"This is a way to put all that textbook and all that knowledge

to use," he said. "And if you can't do that, then basically

you've wasted a college career."

Electrical engineering professor Tom Harrison says his students

have transformed a dream into Reality by designing, building and

test-driving an electric car with high-tech photovoltaic cells

from scratch, a first for the engineering school.

"They're going to prove it works by taking it 1,200 miles

across the center of the United States," he said. "That's

engineering."

Reality will be the only Florida collegiate entry in Sunrayce

97 if it passes its final pre-qualifying inspection at the

Indianapolis Motor Speedway early this week.

But Sunrayce isn't just about competing, teaching, learning or

stoking the creative energies of bright minds. Senior engineer

John Weaver sees it as the cutting edge of a technology that

might one day prove as profound a development as fire, the wheel

and the computer chip.

The country mastering the technology of the solar cell, he

said, also will corner the market on energy, a key element for

any modern society.

"If we come up with the solar cell that is productively usable

costwise, you can actually put the United States back on top of

the manufacturing production of the world," said Weaver, who

works for the engineering school.

Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox hailed his city's co-sponsorship

of the Reality project as an example of a partnership that will

one day lead to everyone driving solar cars. Bryant, a graduate

of Terry Parker High in Jacksonville, and others on the

Tallahassee team say that's inevitable.

"Solar cells truly are [the solution] because they generate

zero emissions," said Larry Sartori, a Reality team member and

22-year-old Florida State mechanical engineering senior from

Kissimmee. …

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