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Freshman Engineering Project And Design Contest With An Electronics Focus: Solar Cell Powered Mini Vehicles

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.293.1 - 3.293.6

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Suzanne Keilson

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3553

Freshman Engineering Project and Design Contest with an Electronics Focus: Solar Cell Powered Mini-Vehicles

Suzanne Keilson, Ph.D. Department of Electrical Engineering and Engineering Science Loyola College, Baltimore, MD 21210

Abstract An important goal of the introduction to engineering course is to provide incoming engineering students with a wide exposure to engineering fields, concepts, and design projects. These modules are often presented in the format of a team-based contest. It is often easier to create such contests with a mechanical rather than an electrical focus. At Loyola College all freshman engineering students take a common introductory course and it was desirable for them to have some exposure to electronics. This had to be achieved within a number of constraints. The project had to take the form of a design contest, it could not demand extensive prior knowledge of electronics (e.g. designing circuits from scratch), and the budget for new equipment and materials was limited. This paper describes the solar mini-car contest that was established with a basic circuit and materials from Solarbotics®1. Students learned about basic electronic components such as resistors, capacitors, transistors, and solar cells. The basic circuit schematic was provided with a few design choices. Student teams developed soldering and design skills as they built the basic solar-powered motor circuit and then experimented with designing the most efficient “solar roller”. The project culminated in a drag race contest open to all of the department’s students. This project met all of our original goals for the course. The format is flexible enough to allow for many possible variations and learning objectives.

Introduction An engineering design contest was needed, both for the first year engineering class and for a department-wide contest during Engineer’s Week. It was desirable for this project to have an electronics focus without demanding extensive prior knowledge of electronics. After research of racing and robotics type contests, material from a company called Solarbotics was decided to form the basis for the class’s design contest. (This company has an Internet web site at The basic “solar engine” kit was available at discounted rates for bulk orders from an educational institution and contains an instruction booklet, transistors, printed circuit board, capacitor, solar cell, and motor from a standard cassette player. In addition, a larger capacitor, a larger solar cell, and a pager motor to provide design options for the students were acquired from the same source. Students learned soldering skills and trouble-shooting skills in developing the basic solar engine circuit, which is covered in the instruction booklet. There were a limited number of design choices for the solar engine, primarily as to which motor and which capacitor each student team would use.

Keilson, S. (1998, June), Freshman Engineering Project And Design Contest With An Electronics Focus: Solar Cell Powered Mini Vehicles Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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