A group of 29 students at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez are trying to raise money on Kickstarter to cover the cost of racing their solar-powered car cross country from Austin, Texas to Minneapolis, Minn.
The Puerto Rico team is one of 24 university teams registered to participate in the American Solar Challenge, which starts July 21.
Students will spend eight days driving cars they have spent two years designing and building themselves 1,700 miles with nothing but sunshine fueling their journeys.
“The purpose of the race is not to get there first,” said Kevin Corpetti, a member of the Puerto Rico team. “The first to arrive is the winner, but it’s about more than that.”
The Solar Challenge started in 1990 and has pushed university engineers and designers to build cars that can make a cross country journey powered by nothing but the sun. The event has evolved over the years as technology has improved.
“Our car is using the best commercially available batteries,” Corpetti said. “We have some of the highest efficiency solar panels. We’re really building our car using the latest technology available.”
The reason for the high quality supplies used to build the Puerto Rico car, and most of the other cars in the race, is clear.
“The car doesn’t just have to be fast,” Corpetti said. “It has to be reliable.”
Traveling more than 1,700 miles requires these solar cars to be solid. While they typically have to be lightweight in order to drive purely on solar power, they also have to be sturdy and stand up to the elements.
As batteries and solar panels have improved in recent years, the cars have become increasingly powerful, fast and functional.
Puerto Rico had a solar car team in 1997 and won fifth place along with a smattering of 40 other prizes. But the group hasn’t participated since then.
“We’re all pretty inexperienced,” Corpetti said.
But the car is already finished and fully functional.
“We’re just putting the finishing touches on it now,” he said.
The team started building the car two years ago. Most of the team members are mechanical and electrical engineers. But the group also has business and finance majors who have been charged with getting sponsorships and funding to cover the cost of supplies. And marketing students have been involved with promoting the project.
The team’s $25,000 Kickstarter campaign doesn’t have anything to do with the cost of the car itself. The group has to travel a long distance and transport the solar-powered car along with chase and lead vehicles by boat. They need to land in Austin at least a week before the race starts for time trials and testing and then make the journey to Minnesota.
The transportation, hotel stays and food will cost a lot and the team is hopeful Kickstarter contributions will help to offset some of the expense for the students.
“Electric cars are the future,” Corpetti said. “We’re already seeing it happen. Eventually everything will be electric. Solar is the next big thing. Everything is moving toward that and we want to have a tiny small role in it.”