Today our great friend John Tyler celebrated who-knows-how-many-years on this earth.

He’s been everything to this (and every) design team. Water Jet Jedi, chauffeur, mechanic, mentor, cheer leader, cookie monster, friend, soldering demon, inventor, you name it. He’s been a champion of UMR/S&T solar cars for 20 years and it’s fair to say this team couldn’t have done without his guidance, patience and good humor.
John can’t be here in Texas this year, but we miss him terribly. The Solar Miners are planting his name on Solar Miner VIII in his honor.

hagrid-1p.s. Don’t know John? Your loss! He’s the Missouri Wizard, identical twin to, and inspiration for, fellow wizard Rubeus Hagrid.

That makes S&T students, staff, and faculty the luckiest people this side of The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Live long and prosper, John!. There’ll always be a place on the team for you!

Such a Pretty Day!

Yesterday was great.
SCT BLOGDSC_9171 Nice breeze, not a cloud in the sky, and you’re crawling in, under and around your solar car at a gleaming new concrete and asphalt race track. In 102 degree heat.

Welcome to Formula Sun Grand Prix near Austin, Texas.

It’s “scrutineering,” the three-day process of validating your sun-powered race car design. Over twenty international student teams are rekindling old (and starting new) friendships, borrowing everything from soup-to-nuts, reading and re-reading the rules, and making sure their two-year design/build project is ready.
Students put their heads together to make sure everyone knows what’s going on, tell a few jokes to cut the tension, check to see if your co-worker needs anything, and take the occasional break to study the process of team dynamics.
PrincipiaDSC_9122Then prove it to race officials before running the corners, hills and straightaways of a real Formula 1 race track. Whoever tallies the most laps in a Thursday/Friday/Saturday race, wins.

Today it’s showers, storms and a forecast of relatively mild 96 degrees. And yes, it’s the humidity.

Wheels on the Ground

S&T’s amazing Formula SAE car is at the St Charles Family Arena today. Their work at the Rolla National Airport is done for now, as the arena’s much larger parking lot really lets the car stretch its legs. In their place the reinvigorated Solar Car Team is using Rolla National Airport’s apron. This young team needs to get a lot of miles on the car well before heading to Austin, Texas in July. They set up a slalom course precisely the same as they’ll face during “scrutineering” at the Formula Sun Grand Prix. Drivers did their best to quickly slip through the course without striking a cone, but didn’t meet the 11+-second maximum tine. Solar carairportDSC_5296[2]
That’ll take practice but the car certainly looked stable enough and mechanically sound. Seasoned observers noted that lap after lap there were no rattles or rubbing sounds. Each of those issues mean reduced efficiency or something coming loose after some road miles.
Solar carSUN_4031After the 9th or 10th slalom sweep the car ground to a halt. Seems a somewhat erratic battery board quit and the battery management system shut down the whole system, just as it should. The students have a handful of spare and boards to complete the repairs. After recovering from yesterday’s aggressive shop-cleaning party, they should be ready to fixing the bugs and be at back at the airport next weekend.

Just Another Saturday Morning In Rolla

Parade Court_MHW3415
……………in which months of pent-up cabin fever explode in oceans of green. After(?)* the roughest winter in over 20 years the annual “Best Ever” St. Patrick’s Parade was the perfect, if brief antidote. Warm enough for the party atmosphere, almost too warm for the mandatory wearing of the St Pat’s sweatshirts, but perfect for the debut of S&T’s reworked Solar Car and its proud Solarcar1_MHW3485builders.

The as-yet-unnamed car is sleeker than previous Miner racers that have cruised the racetracks and highways of North America. The 2014 American Solar Challenge, slated for mid-July, will take a due-north track from Austin, Texas through Wichita, Kansas before taking a gradual north-east swing to end in St. Paul, Minnesota. There’s still a lot of work to do on this solar speeder; the team is young and short on race experience, the untested platform has, as yet, no road miles behind it, so they’ll likely chart a cautious course and build their confidence while they build a capable car.

*24 hours later Pine Street was blanketed by three inches of sleet and snow. Welcome to Missouri!

Rockets and Marshmallows and Glass! Oh, My!

The St. Louis Science Center is the perfect antidote for kids with cabin fever, and what better time to visit than Engineers’ Week?

S&T’s design teams, along with amazing students from Material Advantage outreach crew, celebrated by setting up hands-on technical displays that kids are encouraged to touch, play, launch, break and even eat.

Advanced Aero Vehicle Group turned paper and tape into the stuff of dreams by helping young children build and name their own paper rockets. A small compressor and PVC tubing served as the perfect platform to simultaneously send four semi-guided paper projectiles near the roof of the Science Center’s four story building. Most of the missiles were taken home as prized trophies; others remain on ceiling beams, the top of the elevator, or firmly lodged in other groups’ displays.

MADSC_9077 The student traveling roadshow known as Material Advantage, AKA material manipulators, brought playtime down to earth by handing out nitrogen-frozen marshmallows. The little gems look and taste the same but go “crunch!” when eaten and cause steamy vapor to escape from your nose. Just the kind of thing to keep kids wondering “How?” “Why?”

Engineering can be a lot of fun; intriguing stuff that ignites the spark that guides a youngster’s entire life. A passion that may have started with steam wafting from a child’s nose.

S&T Students On The Solar Car Race

It’s true that Solar Miner VIII wasn’t ready to race in the Formula Sun Grand Prix/American Solar Challenge events this summer, but S&T students are still getting solid race experience as members of other solar car teams.
Rarely does every team qualify for the track or road events; some go home with an unfinished car, some can’t repair accident damage, and some simply overlook critical design requirements. Stuff happens.
Those programs aren’t failures if they learn from the mistakes, and that’s what interim team leader Alex Hoeft and fellow race rookie Ethan Winberg have set out to do.
They left Rolla nearly two weeks ago to see what it really takes to assemble a successful team, and quickly landed a spot on Georgia Tech’s roster. Alex reported “I saw how important team dynamics were, how the Yellow Jackets worked together and acomplished so much with a small team plus Ethan and me. Unfortunately GT didn’t qualify for the American Solar Challenge, so we switched to Western Michigan’s team. We got to know WM pretty well when they, too, tried to help Georgia, so it worked out fine for us.”
Alex summarized the race as battered and slowed by the weather, with several cars ‘running out of gas’ and being trailered to some of the stage stops. This is the year, after all, that teams had to switch to the less powerful/less expensive solar cells, which put the teeth back in the term Solar CHALLENGE.
“I have also seen that most of the technicial issues teams have are in implementation not in the engineering it self. Most of the time that is fairly sound. Not always but most of the time,” said Alex. “I also have quite a few new technical ideas that need testing as well as some best practices for manufacturing and design of some parts. especially in the suspension and electronics areas.”
“Ultimately we have a good understanding of how to rebuild our team for 2013, and that’s probably the most valuable lesson we could bring back from this competition.”

Summer Weekend, Part Trois

JoeMegatron is back home from the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition with a few new bumps and bruises. Late in the day “Joe’s” performance began to drop, apparently due to a failed video camera. Solution? Grab and mount a USB computer camera and hope for the best. It’ll take some time before the IGVC folks publish the results, but Nick Eplin says we ended up “……in the middle of the pack.”
Pretty good when 32 of 50 teams actually showed up, 16 of 32 teams actually qualified, so that could mean S&T took as high as 6th or 7th place out of, uh, 50 teams. Yeah, it’s a bit of stretch, but until the official results are known, we’ll run with that theory.
In the meantime, JoeMegatron will do an encore Wednesday night at S&T’s Robotics camp. Chief team ME Nick Marik will escort “Joe” to an evening seminar in an attempt to inspire the kids to become the next EEs and MEs to update and improve the ‘bot’s performance.

Wanna Name S&T’s New Solar Car?

OK, first, don’t panic and send a fiery email your congressman, professor, or the new S&T Chancellor. The S&T Solar Car Team is asking for your input in whether to retire the venerable “Solar Miner” label from active use.
Why change such a celebrated name? Here’s the thought behind the proposal:
The American Solar Challenge* rules have changed to make the 2012 solar car race more of a challenge, yet more affordable at the same time. Banned are the powerful (and very expensive) gallium-arsenide cells that powered the Miners’ cars for most of the past decade. In their place ALL teams must use a less-powerful (and FAR less expensive) silicon array, while trying to match or surpass the speed and endurance.
Now, S&T’s team has also changed. Lots of dedicated freshmen, a few knowledgable veterans, and a whole new way of looking at things. And they want a name they can call their own.
New manufacturing techniques for the body panels, a much sleeker-looking car, changes to the chassis/belly pan arrangement, and a more stable center of gravity.
So, what’s your thought? Continue with “Solar Miner”? That would make the new car “Solar Miner VIII”.
Do you have a stunning new name that Miner alumni could really get behind? We’re all ears, and we’ll forward all suggestions (printable or not) to the Solar Car Team.
As with all the other student design teams, all design and build decisions rest with the students themselves. After all, they are the ones who do all the work. It’s only fair.
As always, thank you for your support!
Rest assured, the #42 will ALWAYS remain sacred to the Solar Miners, no matter what label the car may wear.
*Late July, Rochester NY to St Paul, Minnesota.

Kind Words From A True “Good Samaritan”

We’ve already mentioned how Rayco Machine Engineering Group saved S&T’s bacon by helping rebuild Solar Miner VII’s kingpin and front spindles in the middle of the night.
Rayco owner Greg Cox and his wife Angi did us one better by showing up at FSGP Saturday to cheer on S&T, and later emailed us the following:
“Thanks for the kind words!”
“This is what we are supposed to do. We at Rayco have been very blessed during our 30+ years in business. We have not been blessed because we turn people away. We are a family business, and family couldn’t have slept knowing we wouldn’t help this team succeed with what I am sure is thousands of hours of work. Richard and Dan were amazing! Always offering to run machines or just lend a hand, and it was awesome to hear them praising their teammates and the university. Missouri S&T should be very proud of these two!”
“Best of luck to the entire team and the university during this and the many challenges ahead.”
God bless!
Greg Cox
RAYCO Machine Engineering Group

To paraphrase a student who said “there’s a whole lot more to engineering than just engineering”, we’d like to honor Greg, his wife Angi, their son Garrett, and their design engineer Mark Bendit by saying:
“There’s a whole lot more to business than just business!”

A Tip Of The Hat To Indianapolis!

We’ve been going on ad nauseam about human-powered vehicle and solar car events for the past week, so let’s take a moment to recognize Hoozier hospitality………….
FSGP winnerscircle.jpg First, the staff at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, from the PR folks, the safety patrols, and even the IMS police officers were a joy to hang around with. Every request we made, no matter how small, was handled with friendly professionalism and great cooperation. When the track was not available for a solar car group photo, they offered the beautiful courtyard behind race control’s “pagoda”. When we asked for a ladder, they provided a cherry-picker complete with two-man crew and all the necessary safety gear. IMS staff even hosted the FSGP awards presentation in the track’s winners circle, then duplicated part of it in front of a larger crowd at the Emerging Tech Day’s main stage. To top things off Duke Energy and Allison Transmission surprised students and race officials alike by presenting several large checks for student scholarships.
On a individual note each IMS staffer we encountered seemed to have just one objective, to make sure their guests had a great experience at the track. They were patient and flexible when people wandered into off-limits areas, got back to us with quick answers to questions, and took time to have friendly conversations about whatever subjects came to mind. And if they had to tell someone they couldn’t wander around on the track, they did so with such a sympathetic smile that you felt bad about being a nuisance.
Couldn’t ask for more!