Tomorrow it all begins

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The race starts tomorrow. I am so excited! We had three days to go through 8 tests in scrutineering to qualify to race. We were the first team to qualify. Woop!

The scrutineering days were Monday through Wednesday. Unfortunately only 5 teams have qualified by the end of Wednesday. However, they have extended the deadline until tomorrow so there would be more teams on the track. I am very surprised that there is not more competition. Although it seems that some members of our team believe that there is no possible way for us to get first again because of the advancement of some of the other universities. I guess I don’t know, but I don’t think that’s true.

We have been spending a lot of time helping other teams. Which is so awesome! The last two years we have been recognized for our sportsmanship and aid to other teams. We are on the same track this year, loaning out tools, giving supplies, and sending a few representatives over to help and offer alternate ideas. I love that this is the way our team functions. This attitude was created by Kat and Hai-Yue, the founders of the team. I am so glad it continues even when they are not there. Although, I do think that we started to be annoying during the end when our whole team was meandering around trying to help. I think it was probably a more natural process when the founders were there. But on the other hand, we have helped so many people. Some teams probably wouldn’t be racing if we hadn’t helped them so much.

The race starts at 10:00 am tomorrow. I am so excited!!! The race is 3.4 miles long and will take about 6 minutes average to get around. There are four drivers and we will be switching out at least every 4 hours. There is so much to learn and practice with driving efficiently, safely and strategically. There are many many sharp turns. Some that must be taken at something like 10mph or less. Apparently drifting is not allowed.

I am about headed to bed. We have an early morning tomorrow with lots of meetings and preparation before the race starts. Tomorrow I might actually have more time to write about the last week since I have lots of down time when I’m not driving.

Bakersfield

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We are currently in Bakersfield. Only a 4 hour drive, but it will be at least 5 with the truck. The truck and trailer has a max speed of 55, which is so frustrating in California where everyone is going 90.

We had a down day at our founder’s house yesterday. The founder’s of the team are so amazing! Kat and Hai-Yue Han started the team in 2005. I had heard so much about how amazing and smart and nice and magical these two people are. And then I met them and they blew any expectations out of the water.

So the day before yesterday we arrived at their house in Palo Alto at 10 at night after a 12 hour drive. That left all of yesterday to get things done. We had a few things on the agenda, namely touring the Tesla factory, NASA research facility, working on the car, and attending a fund raiser for the team. Kat works at the NASA facility and Hai-Yue works at Tesla. Are you starting to understand how awesome these people are?

We ended up skipping the Tesla tour for a few reasons; mostly because we wanted to work on the car more. And we ended up getting a lot done. I personally ended up not working on the car as much, which was disappointing. I have become the official social media/photographer person. Which means I spend quite a bit of time updating facebook/twitter/ blog/website and taking photos/videos of the team. It is a good job that I enjoy, but I really never want to miss anything happening on the car. I did get to take the motor out AGAIN. It is like my job now. I am getting really fast at it.

It a nut shell, there are a few things that happened on the car. We bled the brakes, which made them so much better! We changed the air gap in the motor to get more torque, which we need to change again. And we fixed the horn. All small changes.

By the end of the fundraiser we were all tired and frustrated. This caused some hot tempers and snapping during clean-up, the first team tension I have felt so far. We discussed getting the right nutrition and sleep when we got back to the house to avoid high emotions and chaos.

It was so sad to say goodbye to our founders in Palo Alto! The team and founders wish they were coming along with us, but they are stuck with work.

 

We are at a house that we found on couchsurfers. It is a mansion in the stucco suburbs of Bakersfield. Huge and so hot. We have started working on the car already. We already changed the motor out to adjust the air gap and got both the hubs off to replace bearings. Check out the webcam! We will be working on the car.

 

While I was thinking about how to fundraise I realized that we needed a way for people to give money online. But apparently that is more complicated than expected because we are a University funded club. So if you do want to give money, this is what you do. Write a check to OSU Foundation, and on the check say, “Attention: Solar Vehicle Team”. I know, it’s weird, but all of the donations go straight to the club and that is the only way.

Day before the great adventure

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Well, the day before is a bit of an over statement. It is in fact the day of the adventure at 3 in the morning. We just got back from the lab at 2:30. So I am going to do a quick overview and then get to bed!

Today started out slow. We bought food for the next week and didn’t get to the lab until about noon. It was killer hot by then and there wasn’t much purpose in the team. Projects, but no motivation I guess. I think it had something to do with the nervous excitement for the upcoming adventure.

By about four, we got on the road for some driver training. It was the first time we took it on the road this week. It was so awesome! And scary. I got up to 50 mph at one point! It was so exhilarating. So much adrenaline. It was really hard to control at that kind of speed. The steering is very sensitive and the car seems to easily be caught by wind gusts. It also seems to slightly pull left when you brake at high speeds. This is very scary because that pulls you towards oncoming traffic. Honestly, the scariest thing is that if I did get in a crash for some reason, there would be absolutely nothing left of me.

During the third driver, the motor lost power. The battery pack had been at 30% when we left, but suddenly dropped to zero and the motor stopped responding. We managed to pull off the road safely and realize that the system was not calibrated correctly; 30% standing for something must closer to 2%. Unfortunately, to re-calibrate the system we needed to fully charge the battery with the wall. This takes 5 hours and must be monitored constantly because the charge consists of 100 volts at 4 amps. Enough to stop your heart and start a fire. Being past eight in the evening already, this night turning into a late one. After it reached 100% we also needed to run down the battery because it loses capacity if stored full. Long story short, after charging the battery and driving around for an hour, we finally got home. Ready for an early day tomorrow.

I really need to sleep so I am not useless tomorrow. Maybe more while driving tomorrow? After I wake up…

So exhausted

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I am getting nervous about the amount of tiredness I am feeling now and the amount of driving I have to do in two long, busy days. We are leaving early Monday morning. It will take us about 5 days that include multiple over 12 hour drives to reach Texas. Don’t get me wrong, I love driving. But driving alone blasting your own music or lost in thought is much different than driving a university vehicle with a bunch of people in it. It will be alright though. I like everyone on the team and I think we will be able to make the time go by faster.

Another busy day. I am going to write less about what we did on the car today, because I really don’t feel like explaining or differentiating between today and yesterday. We did get a lot done and make some important group decisions.

We have gotten so much better at communicating as a group. We were never really bad at it. However, there is certainly always improvements to be made. There was one big group decision that needed to be made today regarding whether or not we bring both sedans. The second sedan is used as a scout car. Our team has gotten so small that we certainly don’t need it for the purpose of holding bodies. Its other purpose as the scout car is to report weather and run into town for parts in an emergency situation. Both or these have other solutions. The big problem seems be be that bringing both would force almost every vehicle to only have two drivers. The amount of extra driving it takes to have another car, the splitting of the team with almost half not in the race action, and the uncomfortablness of driving down to Texas with only one person to relieve you, built into a near consensus that we should ditch the second sedan.

We practiced some caravan driving today with the solar car. This is a defensive driving technique that blocks oncoming traffic from running into a solar car. It is interesting and difficult to maneuver this way and definitely takes some practice.

Andy and Wilkins, the two more experiences team members that I mentioned before left again today, unfortunately. It was so awesome to have them down here even if it was just for a bit.

I took a bit of a break from the team atmosphere today(talking about the 5th, btw). I needed to find some normal person shorts for the race. The next three weeks I will be in Texas or between Texas and Minnesota and it will be HOT. At this point in my life I usually keep my wardrobe to skirts and harem pants, both of which are not functional for driving of working on a race car. So I ran some errands, got a few shorts so I don’t roast and got a camel back bladder for when I drive. Before I returned to the lab, I decided to take the opportunity to say goodbye to my partner. So I took an extra hour or so to stop by and see him, considering the next few days will probably be too busy to see him. It was a good decision. We leave early Monday morning. It was also very strange to be apart from the team for about 3 hours. I have been around them nonstop for the last week, working, eating, sleeping.

 

If you want to know more about whats going on with the car and race you can check out the OSU website, facebook page and twitter account.

https://www.facebook.com/osusvt?ref_type=bookmark

http://groups.oregonstate.edu/solar/

https://twitter.com/osusvt

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Last night I was too exhausted to function, so I didn’t get to writing. But yesterday was so exciting! I have been trying try write all day today aswell, but there is hardly time.

Yesterday, starting at 6 am when we got to the lab, we worked all day and got home at about 10:30 pm. There were several things on the agenda including driver training in the parking lot and a mock race down to Eugene and back. This was a hefty goal- the parking lot practice having been pushed back from the day before. We did not get to both of these things done, but that is not to say we weren’t busy all day.

Two things I learned yesterday:

1) Always give yourself at least a 4 hour buffer for doing anything on the solar car

2) Be grateful for everything that fails in this preparation week, because that is one less thing to fail during the race

 

The second one is particularly important, practically and motivationally(this is apparently not a word). Can you differentiate between those two things? Every project is interrupted by seemingly endless complications. But every time something breaks, there are tools and extra pieces that must be found or bought or configured. This makes us prepared both with organization and spare parts.

Yesterday morning seems so far away. But I am pretty sure we took the car out for more driver training. There are different tests that the car and drivers must pass before we are certified to race. This is called scrutineering and consists of things like brake tests, doing a tight figure-eight in under a short amount of time, and completing “slolum”(?) in under a certain a mount of time. The last one is essentially a barrel race for horses, but with a car. I tried to upload a video, but my blog wants me to pay them for video uploading powers. Lame! I might upload it to the Solar Car Facebook page. Pretty soon after we started driving funny noises started coming from the motor. Never a good sign. So we took it in and started the searching process.

Another fun thing that happened yesterday, the local newspaper from Ashland were I spent the last two years of high school interviewed me. They saw my blog and wanted to write an article about me and my involvement in the race. I am very excited and also intimidated. I have found it difficult get the intended message across in media interviews. I hope for the best.

 

There was also so much done today! Fortunately we got a later start and a proper amount of sleep. Today was the actual 4th of July. Don’t let the dates by the posts fool you, I always write after midnight. Two of the team leaders returned for the weekend because they both have internships during the week. It was incredibly helpful to have them around. They are more familiar with the car and it is also just nice to have a couple new faces around.

The majority of the sounds we were hearing were normal, but there turned out to be other problems regarding the motor and the hall effect sensors. Huge progress was made by the end of the day. We started with confusion and ended up with two functioning stators and one functioning rotor. That makes one and a half motors. We have been working with a motor that another school gave us last year during the Solar Challenge. Hopefully we will get ours up and running by the race.

This evening the whole team went downtown to watch the fireworks and later came back to a parking lot by the lab to set off a few we bought earlier. It was fantastic. We have an optimistic, mature, creative, confident, team. There is a good power and responsibility balance. I am not sure if I have ever met a group of people I would be more willing to spend a month with in slightly stressful situations.

I hope I will get more time to write while we are traveling. Now it is almost impossible to find time to take a shower, let alone write a blog.

Brakes and Crush Zones

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Good evening, folks! For your own reference, please note that the date that appears by each post is most often a day past what I am writing about because I normally write after midnight.

A correction from one of my previous posts: The array on the car is not actually that much less efficient then your everyday household solar panel. I did some research today. The car array started at about 20% efficiency, but quickly dropped to something closer to 16-18 because they are not stationary. So they get more damage, have to flex more, etc. However, commercially sold panels only have about 22% efficiency. That isn’t that much more!

Today was so long and so much got done. Tomorrow will only be busier. I was unaware of the amount that needed to get done. Mostly because every task contains at least a few unforeseen problems. It is intimidating to think we are only leaving for the race in a few days. However, I think everything will get done.

I learned so much today! This morning started with meeting at the lab at 9 and I immediately got started on fixing the brakes with another team member. I honestly know very little regarding just about everything on cars. So it is a huge learning process for me. The emergency brake was leaking yesterday until we finally found there was a missing internal connector(sealant) and replaced it. But that only lead to other problems today. By the afternoon I had taken the front right tire and brakes off about 4 times and bled the brakes at least half a dozen times. In the middle of the process the brake cable broke, probably because of all the bleeding. That lead to a trip into town to a bike shop for a few replacement cables. The brakes on the car are all bike brakes. This makes repairs really easy.

There are really only a few people on the team who really have experience working on cars. Which makes them incredibly valuable and also creates an interesting experimenting atmosphere. My guess is that we probably take a lot longer to do simple things that an experience mechanic could do easily. I love it. It is the perfect way to learn.

I also helped with the crush zone. This has been an interesting project. A new regulation that we started on relatively recently, it is made out of elements almost completely made by us. So it’s not pretty, but it works. It is also difficult to get something for the car and not have to modify it, considering the abnormal shape of the vehicle.

Things happening around the shop included

  • organizing/gathering  tools
  • loading the van for tomorrow’s mock race
  • cleaning and draining the travel generator
  • a couple people getting CPR certified(race regulation)
  • cutting and shaping the foam and kevlar for the crush zone
  • repairing the emergency brake
  • machining a part of the wheel so the calipers don’t rub
  • picking up the travel vehicles from OSU(two sedans, one truck, one van)
  • more work on the tablet
  • placement and programming of horn

Today was a busy day. And that wasn’t even all of it. We were all in the lab all day, from 9am till 10 pm with  a few food breaks. But also considering the team now only consists of about 12 people, we made good time.

And we didn’t even get to what we were planning on doing. Today was supposed to be a driving practice day. There are different tests that the car/drivers must pass in scrutineering(to qualify to race). These include break tests and completing a figure eight in under a certain amount of time. We will have four drivers during the race. Currently we are training six. So all those tests must be perfected by each driver, which is a lot of time.

So now we are going to meet at the lab at 6:00am and start our driving training. This will also include practicing with the rental truck pulling a 25 foot trailer. I am more intimidated to pull the trailer that contains the solar car than to actually drive the solar car.

After we finish with that, we are taking off for a mock race down to Eugene. We are taking back roads there and driving on the highway back. I am so excited!! We will probably only be going about 40 mph on the highway, but we have scout and trail vehicles.

There is so much more to say, but I need at least a few hours of sleep. I got sick yesterday, so sleep is definitely a good option. I hope to get more time to write tomorrow. And maybe even take some pictures. So I will leave you with this tidbit that slightly blew my mind today. Our solar car is power by the same wattage that a hair dryer uses. Probably a little less actually.

Lazy Day

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After a long night and late morning, I meandered  to the shop feeling slightly guilty for not showing up early. This is an expected feeling that I will have every morning that I don’t get up before 7 for a few more days at least- a side effect of going home and waking up at 5:30 or so with my beautiful, early-rising, mother. Anyways, I shouldn’t have worried, there was only one other team member there organizing tools for travel. I ended up re-attaching loose wires to the under side of the array for a couple hours.

In the shop

The first week of July is preparation week and the whole team is required to be here. It will be interesting to meet all of the members that are going on the race. I believe there are 16 students going. I have spent a significant amount of time around about 7 people, working on the car and preparing for the next month. The remaining 9 are a mystery.

Tomorrow is the first official day, and we are going to the OSU challenge course- for team bonding or some such. I am sure we will get back to work on the car after that. It will be interesting with so many more people. I fear it may be considerably less efficient.

Busy day tomorrow. Time to sleep.

First day driving the Pheonix

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I got back to Corvallis yesterday afternoon after an amazing night of dancing up in Portland. The dance in Portland was a much needed re-connection with dancing and dancers. The few weeks I returned to Ashland were rough on my dancing self with no Blues dancing to be heard of. But the drive up Oregon was pleasant and the dance was phenomenal.

As soon as I returned to Corvallis at 2:00 I swung by the shop to help with the car. I spent the next few hours extending wires to make room for the crush zone (which is a new regulation of the race). Mostly tedious work, but it was awesome to get my hands on the car and work on something electrical that I have little experience with. Stripping, crimping, and matching colors. Thus the life of an electrical engineer? I worked on various projects until about 7:00 and then crashed at a friends house.

That reminds me, I am currently without housing. After various attempts and frustrating leads, I am still in the market for a place to lie my head for the next school year. I am currently in communication with a friend about another possibility that feels promising. Something will work out when it needs to.

Today was driving day! Showed up at the lab early, ready to test out the car, and then the problems started. We didn’t get out of the shop until after 11, but we did get a lot done! More extensions and wire organization, motor barrier for debris protection, troubles with reading battery level, just to name a few things.

For me, it turned into a frustrating goose chase for necessary bolts that didn’t exist, jerry-rigging with zip-ties and overall confusion. Which tends to be the theme right now. I imagine it will be a while until I feel confident about anything on the car. I am excited to learn and hopefully eventually understand all the components of the car. This will certainly be easier as we design and build an entirely new car during the next school year.

Finally we brought it out for a spin and some new driver training! I am going to drive it in both the races! There are two races, one three-day race on a course in Texas, the other eight-day on roads from Texas to Minnesota. More on that in future posts.

solar car-first drive(4)

 

This is a good shot to see the arrays all along the surface of the car.

After some practice getting in and out in under 10 seconds(another race regulation), I got to take a few laps around the parking lot. Good practice considering the last solar car caught on fire and exploded. Proficient exiting maneuvers kept the driver mostly unharmed.

It was awesome! You really feel like your in a race car. Sitting down in the frame of your Star Wars(esque) pod, there is no escaping the feeling that you are in the future. Also, the low stature and (slightly) shaky frame make you feel like your going REALLY fast when I probably didn’t exceed 40(the tablet was out of order so I don’t know for sure). The car maxes out at about 60-65 mph, with a optimal efficiency around 40 mph.

Things like the display for speed and energy input/output, control of turn signals, horn, and hazard lights are on a tablet that is mounted on the steering wheel. It is kinda crazy to boot up Windows 8 to control a car.

Many people have asked about how the car works when the sun is not out. I did not have a satisfactory answer, considering I did not build this car and know little about it. But I learned a lot today and figured I would share some of my new discoveries. Most of the energy that is used when the car is moving, is coming from stored energy in the battery(we have a massive battery). When the sun is out, the battery is of course recharging at least a little bit. However, we only break even while driving(output for driving=input from rays) around midday in Texas. Usually though, there is a negative balance so the battery is slowly draining. This works out because it is recharged during down time between races. And as a rough estimate, with a full battery, the car could travels about 100 miles at night. Another thing to keep in mind, the type of solar arrays that must be used on the curved surface of the car are not nearly as efficient as the stationary ones you might see on houses.

That is it for now. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I will do my best to answer them. Also, I am going to send the link for this blog to everyone I think would be interested, but if you know someone who I overlooked, please feel free to send them the link. This is the beginning of a fantastic adventure that I wish to share with anyone who is interested.

 

Solar car-first drive

Driving in the parking lot behind Reser stadium.