Thank you, GM!

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General Motors has been a staunch supporter of the University of Michigan Solar Car Team since the team’s inception, and we have been delighted to partner with them again as we prepared to race Novum both across the Australian Outback and along the Oregon Trail! In addition to the financial support from General Motors, having access to GM vehicles throughout our design and build cycles were critical.

We have utilized vehicles that GM provided not only to our team, but also to the entire Wilson Student Team Project Center. The team has used the vehicles for everything from making runs to pick up materials and parts for the car to taking the car to an elementary school to teach young students about the importance of STEM education and the future of renewable energy. Having access to the Suburban gave us the ability to take large numbers of team members to downtown Detroit for the North American International Auto Show, allowing us to represent our team and sponsors at this important event. And having access to the GMC Sierra and multiple Silverado trucks has made it easy to trailer Novum to where the team needs her to be, particularly for race-critical purposes like on-road testing or caravan training. The ability to train on road, make supply runs, attend meetings with sponsors, and interact with the public helps the team function like a well-oiled machine. Mobility means a lot to our operational efficiency.

Use of the GM cars as caravan vehicles during our current mock race and the 2018 American Solar Challenge, where we seek our seventh consecutive title, is extremely valuable. All our caravan vehicles provide crucial race support and help us race safely and smoothly. 2018 Operations Director Vignesh Jagathese describes, “Without GM vehicles, we wouldn't be able to race 1,800 miles through the American heartland to go after our 10th American Solar Challenge title. GM vehicles form an integral part of our fleet, from our Chase Vehicle, which acts as our mobile mission control and houses our Head Strategist and Crew Chief, to our Lead Vehicle, which drives directly ahead of the solar car and advises upcoming road conditions.” These vehicles have been critical during our mock race and will continue being integral as we go on to race across the country.

We are grateful for GM’s continued support in providing both these vehicles and financial support. The team is looking forward to continuing collaboration with GM!

Thank you, GM

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.

A Busy Week and an Empty Workspace

If you were to have walked into our workspace this past week, chances are you wouldn't have seen anybody. The CAEN (computer) lab was empty, no electrical engineers were to be found in the electrical bays, and the main shop floor was uninhabited - save for our mule car.  Yet, this past week has been our busiest week of the summer so far.

Almost everyday this week, we've been sending two groups of team members out to manufacture different portions of our vehicle. Denny, Tyler, Michael, and Ian - our 2015 race electricals - spent most of their week at GM's Warren Technical Center welding a battery pack for our next vehicle. 

The battery pack is broken up into modules and cells - there's a certain number of cells in a module and a certain number of modules in a pack. To arrange the cells in a module we 3D print brackets that safely lock each cell into position. 

photo by  epik studios

photo by epik studios

Our Makerbot Replicator 2Xs helped in speeding up the process of designing and printing the brackets. With the Makerbot 3D printers, we were able to test a variety of designs and better optimize the final layout of the brackets. 

photo by  epik studios

photo by epik studios

photo by  epik studios

photo by epik studios

Almost everyone else who wasn't welding at GM was at Roush sanding and manufacturing the molds for our next car. With all parts of the car coming together, things are getting pretty exciting in Ann Arbor! We're going to have some big news in a couple weeks that we can't wait to share. If you're curious what the name of Michigan's next solar car is going to be, what it's going to look like, or where we're going to be testing in the United States; stay posted!