Members of Cal Poly's Prototype Vehicles Laboratory (PROVE) unveiled a student-designed car Saturday night they hope will break the world land-speed record for a solar-powered vehicle. The public got a look at the car at the Empirical System Aerospace facility in San Luis Obispo.
Since the PROVE Lab originated in 2015, more than 40 Cal Poly students from 13 majors have worked to design and build record-breaking, zero-emission vehicles to demonstrate the possibilities of alternative-energy cars, according to the school.
On Saturday, students revealed their ultra-lightweight car called “Dawn,” which is made of carbon fiber composites, more than 100 square feet of solar panels and efficient electric wheel motors. Unlike other electric vehicles, “Dawn” has no batteries and no way to store energy.
“This is direct-drive, pure solar energy straight to the wheels,” chief engineer David Alexander, an aerospace engineering senior from Salt Lake City, said in a news release. “It’s really out there. It’s less about what you might drive in your everyday life and more about showing people just how far solar energy tech has come in terms of being able to supply the electricity we need for everything.”
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Graham Doig, the PROVE Lab founder and faculty adviser, has previously designed two world-record solar and electric cars.
He helped guide this year’s group in its pursuit of breaking the international land-speed record for a solar-powered car, which they will attempt in June at U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale.
According to the school, “Dawn” can achieve freeway speeds using less than 2 kilowatts of solar power — the equivalent to the electricity used by a hair dryer or a two-slice toaster. Doig hopes the project will inspire the public to continue embracing renewable energy.
“The cost of solar energy has fallen so dramatically in the last 10 years and efficiency is always increasing,” he said. "By turning their idea into reality, these students are going to carve out a piece of automotive history and take their experience out into the world believing that absolutely anything possible.”
For the second year in a row, Lacey Davis, a sophomore aerospace engineering major from Salinas, will drive the car during its record-setting attempt.
“It doesn’t look like a conventional car," Davis said, “and I can tell you it doesn’t drive like one either.”
The current land-speed world record for a solar-powered vehicle is 56 mph.
Project manager Will Sutton, an aerospace engineering major from Rohnert Park, said based on simulations and testing, topping 65 mph is within reach.
“Our vehicle has to be lighter, leaner and more powerful than previous record holders, which were designed for solar racing competitions, compromised by pesky rules and regulations, and other limitations,” Sutton said. “We’re free of the box. This will be one of the most efficient road vehicles ever made.”