Since the early years of the University of Michigan Solar Car Team’s pursuit, GM has been one of our most committed supporters. The team’s close partnership with GM enabled its historic victory in the 2016 American Solar Challenge.
GM supplied us with two long-term vehicles to utilize while racing, contributing to our caravan the Weather and Media vehicles, two cars that played key roles during the 2016 ASC.
The team’s caravan supports solar car Aurum during the race, ensuring as smooth a ride as possible. Different race crew tasks are compartmentalized within different caravan vehicles in order to maximize efficiency and make things run as seamlessly as possible for the driver in Aurum.
The Weather vehicle is one of the most important pieces of the caravan, driving 30-45 minutes ahead of the solar car and relaying relevant information back to the team’s strategists in the Chase vehicle, keeping them aware of conditions like cloud cover or the severity of a storm along the route that the team’s weather models anticipated. At the end of each day, the strategists in Chase send Weather a range of possible locations, and Weather scopes out a location ideal for charging. And when that End of Day location is decided on, Weather readies the area for Aurum’s arrival. Meanwhile, the Media vehicle allows the team to keep up a media presence, documenting the race through photography, videography, social media updates, and press materials. Media also has more flexibility than the other caravan vehicles, so it can travel ahead of or behind the main caravan, which affords it the opportunity to do some of the same scouting as Weather if the situation calls for it. The Media car also pulls into the End of Day location before Aurum; there, Media aids in setting up the space for the car, in flagging it into the allotted spot, and in removing the car’s canopy. And since Media carries the sprayer, it also helps with cooling the array for charge time.
Having GM’s dependable vehicles in our caravan benefits the team immensely, because it gives assurance when performing key duties.
GM also granted Michigan access to its Global Battery Systems Lab. Here, the team’s engineers built Aurum’s battery in an environment with the relevant safety measures, oversight, and equipment they needed to do so successfully. The state of the art equipment allowed Michigan to build the best battery it could. The EV battery welding system, for example, allowed for effective copper tabbing. Copper tabbing involves the welding of copper to the battery for the purpose of bolstering electric current, and improper execution of this welding introduces a greater chance of experiencing voltage drops. This would be detrimental during a solar race, when the car’s battery has to be as reliable as possible in order to make up for the unreliability of the energy source, the sun. GM’s equipment was precise and sophisticated enough for Michigan to create a battery pack that was light but did not sacrifice capacity. In a race with little sun and therefore less chance to charge, having a strong battery pack paid off, allowing greater storage of power.
Thank you, GM. The team appreciates all you’ve done for us.