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Teaching Instrumentation Through Solar Car Racing

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.948.1 - 6.948.6

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Paper Authors

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Michael J Batchelder

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Daniel F. Dolan

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

Session 1359

Teaching Instrumentation through Solar Car Racing

Michael J. Batchelder, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Daniel F. Dolan, Mechanical Engineering Department South Dakota School of Mines and Technology


Solar car racing has been a means of motivating hands-on engineering education through competition among North American higher education institutions. Sunrayce, and now Formula Sun and American Solar Challenge, have tested the abilities of engineering students over the past decade. Proper instrumentation of the vehicle is critical for testing during the vehicle design and for successful racing. As an important part of the solar car team, the instrumentation team not only learns technical skills, but also the soft skills of planning, managing, and working with others to reach a common goal.


Focusing engineering education on projects and competitions is a popular approach to giving students experience with real open-ended design problems, teamwork, communication, and leadership1,2,3,4. ABET requires engineering programs to demonstrate that their graduates have fundamental knowledge and know how to apply it working in teams. Student teams participating in solar car racing develop not only technical skills, but also communication, project management, and teaming skills. The Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Production (CAMP)5,6 at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology promotes engineering education through team-based projects. One of these team projects is the solar car competition.

Sunrayce, patterned after the World Solar Challenge in Australia, has been a biennial competition among North American higher education institutions. Students design, build, and race solar powered vehicles on secondary roads over a ten day period. Recent races have been from Indianapolis to Colorado Springs and Washington D.C. to Orlando Florida. The 2001 race, now called the American Solar Challenge7, is from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Solar Car Instrumentation

Figure One shows the power system of a typical solar car. Strings of solar cells are connected to peak power trackers (PPTs). The PPT is a dc-dc converter that causes the solar cells to operate at the knee of the current vs voltage characteristic to produce the maximum power. The total array of solar cells on a typical solar car can produce around Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Batchelder, M. J., & Dolan, D. F. (2001, June), Teaching Instrumentation Through Solar Car Racing Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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