Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Their project entry completed, members of Bullard High School's Solar Team are spending the next few months tweaking their solar-powered vehicle while spreading the word about it.
“The more we can test ahead of time, the more we know what to expect at race time,” explained Cullen Hippler, a high school senior who serves as team publicity and finance director. “And everywhere (the car has been on display), there's a crowd of people, which we love, because we want people to know about it.”
Bullard and Gilmer schools each have teams participating in the nine-day race, which begins July 20 with teams checking in at the DFW Mariott. An opening banquet will be held the following day, with a media event at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, according to the site www.solarcarchal-lenge.org.
Teams begin travel on July 23, stopping in El Paso three days later for a rest, then commence with the race on July 27, arriving in Los Angeles July 30.
Hippler said the Bullard team hopes to average 40 miles per hour during the race, whose path “avoids most of the interstate.
“At two points, we'll be getting on them for a little while, but (the mapped route) is much safer, plus it brings a little bit (of a boost) to the local economy in those places it goes through,” he said.
Their 15-member team will stop several times a day, breaking for food and rest.
“Some of those rests are set up as media stops, because we're required to do interviews,” he added.
Work on the project began last summer, when team members Casey Duck and Austin Gwartney, BHS seniors, took part in the University of Texas at Dallas' Solar Car Camp.
The project was part of a senior design course at UT Dallas, with university students serving as project managers for high school participants.
When school began in August, team members began planning their entry for the Winston challenge.
“Our first shipment arrived early October, but we had to do a lot of preliminary research,” including a trip to Connecticut to meet with carbon fiber expert Krzystof Kotlinski, a Polish engineer who patented a process that the team incorporated into their design.
“Other than him, we are the only ones to hold the rights to that patent,” Hippler said. “It's a system for joining carbon fiber tubes, which you can't drill holes through because it (destroys the integrity of the tubes). Nobody has been able to use this until now, and it allows the strength-to-weight ratio (become) eight times stronger than steel (using an adhesive bonding material).”
In turn, this allows for a lighter-weight frame compared to their competitors' projects, allowing the vehicle to get more bang for the buck in terms of solar power.
“The main frame plus the wheels weigh about 180 pounds; including solar panels, motor and battery, it will weigh 500 to 600 pounds,” Hippler said.
In the meantime, the team is hoping to put approximately 1,500 test miles on their car – about the same amount as they'll be traveling cross-country – while they raise the last bit of funds for the competition.
Their goal is to hit about $60,000, and have so far raised $50,000, including a grant from the Bullard Education Foundation and a trailer that serves the dual purpose of carrying the car from site to site and serve as a learning center wherever they go.
“We're showing (area) communities our vehicle and teaching them about all these different aspects that we're using,” Hippler said. “It's especially getting younger kids excited about science.”
The finished vehicle's dimensions are 1.6 meters tall, 1.8 meters wide and 116 feet in length.