Formula Sun Wrap Up, Part II

On Monday, CalSol’s trip came to a close. With GoldRush safely home, it is time to reflect on the journey that we embarked on. (Click here to see photos of the race).

First and foremost, we would like to thank our sponsors for their monetary and material support, without which CalSol would not exist. Secondly, thank you to all the team members who have toiled for many months, surrendering your free time, sleep, and grades to finish the car in time for Formula Sun. Lastly, thank you to all our families who have seen very little of us because we were “working on the solar car”.

While engineers are obsessed with performance and numbers, I think it diminishes the accomplishments of this team to dwell on the numerical results of the race. Yes, it’s true, we finished 9th out of 9 qualifying teams, with only 67 laps compared to Minnesota’s 487, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The most amazing part of our race occurred before we even entered the track for the first time.

When we arrived in Texas, we had what we thought was a nearly complete car, needing only a few finishing touches on the electrical system before we would pass scrutineering. The electrical team focused its attention on the Battery Protection System, a critical system that monitors our lithium ion batteries for conditions that could damage them or start a fire. However, after 2 days of working on it nonstop, we decided that there were fundamental design flaws that would prevent it from working no matter how many microchips we replaced, how much soldering we did, or how much code we wrote. While less dedicated and resourceful teams would have called it quits and packed up, CalSol was determined to get out on the track and race.

Berkeley engineers may be criticized as “theoretical” and “not practical”, but there wasn’t any theory that would get us out onto the track. As we wrote earlier, after the race had already begun, we decided to switch to lead acid batteries, a much simpler chemistry, but also much heavier and with less capacity. Within a few hours, we had located a distributor of suitable batteries, planned the mechanical changes needed to accommodate the extra volume and weight, and mapped out the necessary electrical rewiring. By Thursday morning, we had debunked the myth and passed the remaining scrutineering tests.

And so every one of those 67 laps was a triumphant reminder of what we as Berkeley engineers are capable of accomplishing in spite of the most challenging circumstances.

Go Bears!

Our next public appearance will be at the Marin County Fair on July 1-5. Come out and see GoldRush as a part of the Electric Wheels Car Show!