The Stanford Solar Car Project is an entirely student-run initiative that designs, builds, tests and races solar-powered vehicles as part of the biennial World Solar Challenge, a nearly 2,000-mile race from Darwin to Adelaide.
In 2013, Stanford’s entry was the top U.S. finisher and fourth overall. In the 2015 race, starting Oct. 18, the Stanford Solar Car Project’s new vehicle, dubbed Arctan, is one of 42 entries from 24 countries. Members of the team are blogging about their experience in Australia on the project’s website.
A crucial factor in electric-car development is the heft of the battery needed to store energy for practical driving. Rules for the race address this challenge and push the boundaries of the technology by stipulating that the cars may only store 10 percent of the estimated energy needed for the trip. The rest must come from the sun itself via solar panels on the car, or be recovered from the vehicle’s kinetic energy as it makes its long, austere run across the continent.
Stanford’s team not only conducts cutting-edge automotive research and testing, but also helps build global awareness of the need for energy-efficient vehicles. Stanford Solar Car Project team members develop engineering, logistics, marketing and project-management skills that alumni say serve them well in a range of fields, from the automotive industry to cancer-therapy research to software marketing.