ABU DHABI — Illinois State University's Solar Car Team finished 13th out of 15 teams in an international competition and will return home with a new outlook and new ideas for their car.
“For me, the most important part is the experience that the students get in moving out of their comfort zones,” Dan Holland, physics department chairman, said via email from Abu Dhabi. “This has been a great group of students to work with and they represented the university extremely well.”
Nick Reichman, one of the team's leaders, said in an email: “The team got a lot of information out of this race. We'll need to make a lot of improvements to our car to be much more competitive.”
One of those improvement will be a switch from nickel-metal hydride batteries to more-efficient lithium batteries, Reichman and Holland said. Other changes include a move toward an in-hub motor, Holland said.
“We made contacts with other teams that are willing to help us improve these systems,” Holland said.
The team completed about 500 miles of the three-stage, 690-mile race, Reichman said.
The team drove each day until the car didn't have enough energy to keep going, then it would be placed on a tow truck to go to the next staging point, according to Holland and Reichman.
“Driving on desert roads are almost unreal. The roads are straight as an arrow. The only thing you can see for miles is just sand, sand and more sand,” said Reichman, one of three drivers on the 11-student team. “It's no ordinary beach sand. The sand is much finer and the color ranges from light yellow to dark orange.”
In addition to sand, the team saw camels.
"Seeing herds of camels on the side of the road is really cool," Reichman said.
The Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge led up to a World Energy Summit. The students got to see the crown prince present prizes to the first-, second- and third-place teams and meet former Vice President Al Gore.
“The chance to compete with the top solar cars across the world in Abu Dhabi is just about a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Reichman said.
Reichman is looking toward the future, which includes upgrading the car used in this race for the 2015 Formula Sun Grand Prix this summer.
“This was a great learning experience for the entire team,” said Holland, who noted that most of the teams were "significantly better funded" than ISU. The winner was from the University of Michigan.
“This was our first international competition, so I am pleased with the results,” Holland said.