The American Solar Challenge Conference

How do you learn to design and build a solar car? Although it’s possible to watch documentaries, read technical manuals, and pore over photographs, one of the best ways to learn is from someone who has done it before. Last weekend, the team was privileged to host 150 such people in Ann Arbor for the Solar Car Conference, a three-day smorgasbord of knowledge and collaboration sponsored by the parent organization of the American Solar Challenge. Several teams from across the USA and Canada, plus representatives of Dutch Nuon and Australian Team Arrow, were in attendance. 

Friday evening was a fun chance to relax and get to know our friends and competitors, many of whom had driven all day or made lengthy flights to reach Ann Arbor. In addition to some plenary sessions and the obligatory ASC team roll call, the evening featured a massive pizza dinner and a seminar on project management co-hosted by UMSolar leads Pavan Naik and Arnold Kadiu and Nuon alumni Arjan van Velzen and Bart Koek.

Saturday held the heart of the conference’s technical content. Though a dozen concurrent sessions were held – ranging from race logistics taught by veteran racer and ASCorganizer Gail Lueck to solar array basics taught by legendary solar car array manufacturer Alain Chuzel – everyone learned something. The high point of the day for Michigan came during the evening plenary session, when Dr. Nabih Bedewi brought the team up on stage and announced he had a surprise for us. As an Executive Board member of the International Solar Car Federation, Dr. Bedewi was instrumental in organizing the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge this past January, and presented us with the championship trophy, which until now had been held by our team partners at Abu Dhabi University. It was an honor to finally bring the hardware home!

Sunday seemed to come all too fast, and after a lively morning discussing future rayces and regulations, and a presentation on continuity and knowledge transfer by veteran UMSolar member Aaron Frantz, the conference drew to a close and our friends and perpetual competitors returned to their home institutions to put their newfound knowledge to use on their own vehicles and address the homework they’d neglected all weekend being in Ann Arbor. UMSolar is proud to have hosted this event, and hopes that we’ll see another strong crop of American raycers out on the road soon!

Aaron Frantz, Operations Director