A student-engineered solar car spent hundreds of miles on the road and then years in storage before Durango students resurrected it to race last week in Texas, where it tested the engineering know-how of the racers.
The small Energy Odyssey team won an award last week for displaying the “highest level of courage in the face of engineering obstacles” at the Solar Car Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, a race for solar cars built by students from across the country.
The team’s car troubles started shortly before leaving, when one of the car’s solar panels shattered, lowering the efficiency of the whole car. Then, after arriving in Texas, the car’s front-end steering system had to be reworked to ensure the vehicle could turn.
The vehicle’s motor controller – equipment needed to send electrical signals between the battery and motor – also started having problems at the contest, team members said.
Despite the challenges, the car’s performance improved each day during the four-day race of endurance against 29 other teams, said Jem van Tyn, a senior at Animas High School. Van Tyn relished building solutions to the problems.
“I just loved this kind of work; I love running into challenges,” he said.
He competed with Animas senior Grady James and recent Animas graduate Henry Haggart as part of the smallest team to compete, putting the team at another disadvantage. Animas High students Joe Thomson and Akos Varga also helped rebuild the car but did not travel to the race.
The team did not have an engineering adviser with it in Texas, but it did receive help from other teams at the contest that helped the Durango team with the welding to realign the front wheels.
The students’ interest in the contest was sparked after learning about the car’s existence from a teacher at AHS. The vehicle was built for the 2016 Solar Car Challenge road race and traveled 215.9 miles between Fort Worth and Minneapolis.
When team members pulled the car out of storage, they found the wiring was a bit of a mess.
The team used an online manual to put the car’s systems back in working order without much adult help, they said.
Haggart said he enjoyed the process of figuring out the electrical system and preparing for the race.
“It was a really cool goal at the end, where you got to drive something that you made,” he said.
The group would like to get more students from Animas and Durango high schools involved in the race in the future, especially because in 2021 the Solar Car Challenge race will be between Fort Worth and Durango.
“We are hoping a future team can do that race and make us proud,” James said.