AMES, Iowa – It wasn’t necessarily smooth sailing for Team PrISUm, Iowa State University’s solar car team, at this year’s American Solar Challenge, but that didn’t stop them from pulling in at 3rd place.
Though it’s often called a “race”, the team says the national competition is technically more of a “challenge”; solar-powered vehicles constructed by student-run teams at various schools across the country must meet certain requirements, then perform at certain distances over strictly laid-out time-frames against one another. The challenge starts in Austin, Texas and ends in Minneapolis, Minnesota – a 1,722-mile journey.
The national challenge comes around every two years, and team PrISUm says they spend that entire time constructing a solar-powered vehicle for it. While the entire premise of the car is centered on solar paneling, team members say that only takes up about five percent of their time building the vehicle.
This year, the team was only one of two (along with the Michigan team) to actually complete the qualifying criteria to participate in the race – but the judges allowed several other team’s vehicles, who were very close to meeting qualifications, to compete so that the challenge would be more fun.
While the Team PrISUm was prepared to race from Texas to Minnesota, they didn’t go without encountering a few road blocks: in one state, they were pulled over by a police officer, and had to justify their vehicle’s legality on the road. Luckily for them, the judges awarded them their time talking to the officer back to them at the end. Along with a few last-minute repair operations, the race had its twists and turns.
Finishing in third place, team members say they’re excited for what’s next: building an entirely new vehicle. That’s what they say is the fun part – each challenge calls for a new vehicle, with slightly different requirements.
“After each American Solar Challenge they come out with new regulations and new rules,” said Logan Scott, project director of PrISUm. “We’ll be looking at those regulations after they’re released to start designing our next car. Because most likely this car won’t even fit the regulations for the next one to get in, so we have to keep looking forward to building the next one.”
For a state so focused on renewable energies, these Iowa State students say they feel proud to be soaring the roadways of America strictly on solar power.