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April 7th 2018
Cal Poly PROVE Lab unveils solar-powered car to challenge world record this June


Cal Poly College of Engineering Contact: Charlotte Tallman


PROVE Lab team contact: Thomas Rohrbach


SAN LUIS OBISPO (CA)The Cal Poly Prototype Vehicles  Laboratory (PROVE LAB) will reveal for the first time its student-designed vehicle that has been built to break the world land speed record for a solar-powered vehicle (record attempts this coming June in the Mojave Desert).


The Prototype Vehicles (PROVE) Laboratory is a student-led, multidisciplinary organization started in fall of 2015 with the goal to design and build record-breaking zero-emission vehicles to demonstrate the possibilities of alternative-energy vehicles, together with creating a companion STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) outreach program for middle schools on California’s Central Coast to inspire the next generation of engineers. The organization includes students from all majors, interests and backgrounds. PROVE Lab’s founder and faculty advisor, Dr. Graham Doig, has designed two previous world-record solar and electric cars, and assists students in all facets of the mission.

Over the past three years, more than 40 Cal Poly students from 13 different majors have been dedicated to making their vision a reality that helps pave the way for the future of renewable energy. The group’s goal has been to design and build a vehicle that will set a new international land-speed record for a solar-powered car — no engine, no batteries, just 100 percent renewable energy from the sun. The team will attempt the record in June at U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.

The ultra-lightweight car, nicknamed “Dawn” by the team, is composed of carbon fiber composites, more than 100 square feet of solar panels and efficient electric wheel motors. Unlike other electric vehicles, this solar car has no batteries and no way to store energy. “This is direct-drive, pure solar energy straight to the wheels,” said chief engineer David Alexander, an aerospace engineering senior from Salt Lake City. “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.” The car can achieve freeway speeds using less than 2 kilowatts of solar power, which is equivalent to the electricity used by a hair dryer or a two-slice toaster.

Doig thinks their car 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.”

Lacey Davis of Salinas, California, will drive the car. The sophomore aerospace engineering major also helped build the car that she will pilot in the record-setting attempt. “It doesn’t look like a conventional car, and I can tell you it doesn’t drive like one either,” she said.

The team is confident its design will eclipse the existing 56 mph record for a solar-powered vehicle. “We know from our simulations and testing that this thing should top 65 mph,” said project manager Will Sutton, an aerospace senior from Rohnert Park, California. “No vehicle has ever been specifically designed from scratch to break this record. 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. We're free of the box. This will be one of the most efficient road vehicles ever made.”