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University of Michigan unveils asymmetrical sun-powered racing car

  • University of Michigan/Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

  • University of Michigan/Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

Two-time defending American Solar Challenge champion the University of Michigan is hoping for a lopsided win at the world's top sun-powered car competition in Australia this year.

New rules at the World Solar Challenge requiring the lightweight, very aerodynamic cars to have a minimum of four wheels, up from three, led the team to move the driver’s seat of its new car, called Generation, from the center to the left side. This tucks in the bulge for the driver’s body between the fairings for the wheels, rather than blocking the air passage in the middle of the vehicle.

With the battery and drivetrain components positioned on the right side, from the point of view of weight distribution it’s less asymmetrical than it appears to be. The team also found that the off-center placement of the cockpit bubble reduces the amount of shadows cast onto its solar cell-covered flat top surface, improving its efficiency.

Weighing in at about 500 pounds with driver, the vehicle is capable of reaching speeds of over 100 mph, but will mostly be travelling slower than to conserve energy during the 1,800 mile race between the cities of Darwin and Adelaide that takes place from October 6-13th.

Along with seven overall titles at the U.S. event, the school has finished third in five straight World Solar Challenge events, which are held every other year.