NC State’s SolarPack Team Is Making Solar-Charged Cars Practical

As the world pushes toward electric and cleaner vehicles, NC State University’s SolarPack team wants to be at the front of the crowd. Founded in 2016, SolarPack is working to promote energy efficient transportation by designing and developing a solar-charged car.

SolarPack is not necessarily unique – it is one of several car-focused groups on NC State’s campus, and schools across the world have programs and students constructing solar cars. Where the team is trying to separate itself is in its approach to the technology. SolarPack wants to make a car that is not merely functional but also attractive and usable as an everyday vehicle. Indeed, its vision is to empower students to answer the question: “Can solar vehicles be practical?” “We want people to want to drive our vehicle,” said Charlie Phillips, a member of SolarPack and current Advanced Energy motors and drives co-op.

The effort offers a great opportunity for members to get hands-on engineering experience in a team-oriented environment. The group of 70 undergraduate and graduate students is divided into six subteams that work on different aspects of the car. There’s aerodynamics, electrical, structures, vehicle dynamics, systems architecture and business. Together, they have been designing, developing and building a vehicle that can drive an estimated 230 miles on a single charge and seat up to four people – again, they are striving for practicality.

The group’s eyes are currently set on having the car ready to go for the Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP) in Texas this July. The FSGP is a three-day track competition, with the overall winner being the vehicle that completes the most laps within the three days. SolarPack is aiming higher, though. The team is attempting to break multiple records, including fastest car from 0 to 60 mph, highest top speed, most powerful car and fastest lap.

After the event, SolarPack can go one of three ways with its current vehicle. The team can scrap it, keep it as is or continue to work on it to try to make it road legal. This latter option may be the most fulfilling as a way to bring the car full circle. “This has been our first car, and we built it from the ground up,” said Charlie, “so we have a real sense of pride and attachment to it.” At the same time, SolarPack will turn to building its next vehicle, learning from the missteps in its initial endeavor.

When they’re not preparing for competition or tweaking their vehicle, team members love to bring the car to events to teach people about their work and the technology they’re exploring. One day not too far off, visitors may be driving their own solar-charged car, and SolarPack will know it had a role to play.

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