Frustrated And Exhausted, But The Miners Have A Plan

The second day of FSGP qualifying/scrutineering was nearly disastrous for S&T, but the MIners have regrouped and are on the way to overcoming adversity.
It was deja vu all over again for Solar Miner VII in the skid pad test early this afternoon. Yesterday the driver turned too sharply at speed and inadvertently made the car a two-wheeler. Today’s driver did it one better, putting the body nearly SCwreckIMG_0082.jpgvertical and dragging the rear corner on the tarmac. Cosmetic damage is easily repairable; a collapsed suspension, not so much.
SCWreckDSC_0963.jpgJust as the car reached the worst possible angle (short of rolling over) the lateral force sheared off the left front spindle, the entire wheel assembly folded up under the car, SMVII pancaked to the ground, and at least a dozen panicked team members and race officials sprinted to the scene. It took a moment for everyone to gather their wits, carry the car back to the pits, and evaluate the damage. Multi-point body damage, a brake rotor twisted like a pretzel, a possible bent wheel, and a pretty rattled driver. The good news is that all the solar/electrical systems seem to be intact.
It didn’t take much more time to devise a plan. The Principia crew quickly took charge of repairing the body damage, team leader Justin Dobrinski called Rolla to get new parts en route to Indy, and Dan Leafblad and shop manager RIchard Dalton headed to a machine shop to manufacture even more back-up parts.
We’re hearing excited rumors that they found the best (and friendliest) bunch of machinists in town, so early tomorrow Solar Miner VII should be roadworthy again and ready to race. Once we learn the name of our mechanical saviors we’ll pass them on to our adoring fans.
Oh, and the driver? He went from the frying pan into the fire. He was quickly escorted to the track’s “red flag room” where he underwent his punishment. He had to spend the next two hours taking his math final exam. (We TOLD you it’s that time of year!)
Let’s close with this thought: In the theater world, lousy rehearsals are often thought to be the precursor to a great performance. Let’s go with that hope for tomorrow.
And kudos to Dan Leafblad for capturing images both incidents in camera. Let’s tell him not to make a habit of it!

How Often Do You See THIS On College Sports Broadcasts?

Formula Sun Grand Prix just happens to coincide with several schools’ final exam week, and that puts solar car students in a tough spot. Granted, their teams may seem paramount in their lives, but these projects’ foundation is 100% education. Even the organization’s name, Innovators Educational Foundation, reflects this reality.
So how do students handle such critical scheduling conflicts?
Here’s a few examples:
One team missed FSGP’s all-team meeting yesterday, because they were all taking their finals somewhere in Indianapolis.
DSC_0871.jpgSUN_9784.jpgIndividual students hunker down anywhere they can to study, study, study. Concrete floor? No problem! Solitary grandstand seat? That’ll work! Meeting rooms? Perfect!
Professors do a great job of meeting the students half way, because they also understand the value of hands-on learning. Most are willing to send exams along with volunteer staffers who somehow find time to proctor tests and fax them back to campus in time for grading.
Students? They have to drop everything to take tests the same time as their classroom-bound brethren. That means they are up late cramming at the same time they spending many hours making sure their cars are set to go.
One big disadvantage is that NASCAR drivers have been practicing at Indy yesterday and today. Seem like every few seconds a car screams around the track, so imagine trying to study while jet fighters roar by at low altitude.
“Dedicated” would be an understatement, don’t you think?

Baby, It’s COLD Outside!

Under the IMS grandstands dozens of students are huddled up against the cold. It was just over 40 degrees this morning, there is a steady breeze that lowers the comfort level even more, and there’s a frost advisory for tonight. Welcome to spring!
Scrutineering, however, goes on undeterred. All the solar cars have to pass inspection today, because some critical inspectors head back to their long-suffering families tonight.
The Miners have been moving steadily through the inspection process without major issue, but all the teams got a stiff lesson yesterday on why the inspectors, especially electrical engineer and ’99 S&T grad Dan Bohachick, are so diligent about their duties.
FireIMG_9979.jpgSolar Miner VII was moving between stations when one of the Miners’ auxiliary crew* noticed smoke coming from under the car.
Fire and lithium-polymer batteries are a dreaded combination so the crew quickly pulled the array off and grabbed the extinguishers. Thankfully it was far more smoke than fire and the crisis was quickly over.
A post-panic survey showed that the umbilical cable between the array and chassis rubbed against a sharp piece of metal causing a high-amperage short circuit. There was a small flame licking away at the array’s foam core, and that seems to have been the cause of so much smoke.
Damage? Just a palm-sized area of melted foam and a scorch mark on some carbon fiber but no structural issues. No injuries of any kind, no cosmetic indications at all, and frankly you have to know where to look to even find the problem. Batteries, circuits, motor and solar cells all escaped 100% intact, so it’s just a matter of correcting the cause. And staying alert.
NOW you know why the inspectors are so fierce in their adherence to safety rules.
*Years ago the Miners helped Principia College get their successful solar car team started, and the schools have been close ever since. Due to graduation, new jobs, and final exams S&T was only able to send a skeleton crew out to FSGP this year. Solution? Call our friends across the river in Illinois, and see who wants to race. Five members of the Principia Solar Car Team jumped at the chance to play at the Brickyard, so now S&T can breathe easier.
Solar car racing is a close fraternity, and teams help each other out whenever possible. Good networking, good friendships, and good life lessons grow out of these events, since a a student recently said, “there’s a whole lot more to engineering than just engineering!”

Solar Car Scrutineering At The Indianapolis Motor Speedway

It’s been cool at the IMS today, but at least we’ve seen the sun peek through at times.
This morning the FSGP folks held the all-team meeting of a groggy bunch of students, but it was where the meeting was held that was a thrill. Just imagine starting your day in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s media center, way up in “the Pagoda” that overlooks the straightaway of this American historic landmark. Spectacular view, by the way!
Solar car events are like class reunions. Everyone (well, almost everyone) is glad to see each other and wants to learn what’s been going on since last June’s cross-country race.
People are asking what happened to Western Michigan’s 2010 duckling mascot (doing fine in it’s own pond, thank you).
They’re glad to see the University of New Mexico back with a much-improved car, after the Lobos withdrew from last year’s American Solar Challenge.
It’s great to see a new member of the solar car family! Michigan State is here with their first-ever solar racer. It’s kinda basic, but that’s true of every team’s first attempt. Who knows? It’s simplicity could be an advantage on such a small (0.9 mile) road course.
You should have seen the stunned look on the faces of the IMS PR folks this morning when they discovered the Formula Sun Grand Prix (and American Solar Challenge) staffers are all volunteers . Yep, when Gail Lueck told the PR lady that “running this operations is just a hobby” you’d have thought the woman was going to fall over!
What has S&T been doing during all this? Well, the Miners ran the slalom course and the skid pad, and have been making SolarCar2wheelIMG_9912.jpgtheir way through the static inspections, but Justin Reynolds had a little fun when S&T Alum (and race official) Brian Call turned his back. Justin took Solar Miner VII up on two wheels during the skid pad tests, but we’re kidding when we imply it was intentional. He had been taking the circle as tight as possible, but fast driving and SMVII’s tight turning radius took him where no man really ever wants to go.
More odds ‘n ends tomorrow.

Update: It’s Gonna Be Cold And Wet Today!

Just a quick intro to Tuesday’s s activities:
S&T’s Solar Car Team and ten other schools have set up operations under the grandstand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the (normally) annual Formula Sun Grand Prix track race.
At 6:00 a.m. it was a balmy 44 degrees
Look for rain, freezing students, and not much solar power.
More tomorrow.

Need An Excuse To Visit The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) But Can’t Afford Tickets to the Indy 500?…….

Why not come to the “Brickyard” to watch two of S&T’s premier design teams race on one of the world’s most famous tracks? And what better time to make the pilgrimage than during the 100th anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500 race?
April 29th to May 1st the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) will host the Human Powered Vehicle Competition (HPVC) EAST cycle races. S&T has fielded the most consistent racing design team for most of the past decade, capping their trophy list with a 100% sweep of every 2010 ASME speed-class event. The Miners’ ’11 team will have quite a few new faces, since Whittney Metcalf is wrapping up her time in Rolla and long-time aero designer Andrew Sourk has graduated with his master’s degree.
We’re not sure how much of the oval will be turned over the the pedal-powered vehicles, or whether the bikes/trikes/quads will run on the Formula-style road course, but either way the track is a pretty fan-friendly place, so come on out and support the Miners!
We could just designate the first week of May as “Missouri S&T Week” at the automotive Mecca. No sooner than ASME clears the paddock than Solar Miner VII moves in May 2nd-7th for the Formula Sun Grand Prix. This week-long tech inspection and track race helps solar car teams train new members, evaluate design changes on older machines and test the road-worthiness of newly-built solar cars. It’s tough to keep a solar car team operating smoothly, since the cross-country American Solar Challenge (ASC) only takes place every two, or sometimes three, years so FSGP is critical for this type of experiential learning.
2011 will be a solar car homecoming of sorts, since Indy was the starting point for the ’97 Sunrayce (now ASC) sprint to Colorado Springs.
See you at the Speedway!

Solar Miner VII Is Back On The Road

Design teams normally focus on competitions at or near the end of the spring semester, but in reality, many of these teams are year-round projects.
Last weekend S&T’s solar car team ran their usual practice circuit to Licking, Missouri and back. They headed down Highway O, a rural two-lane road, to get warmed up for 35 miles or so. Once in Licking, they stop for a maintenance check, driver change, and maybe a few soft drinks before turning around and heading home. If they have a new driver they’ll probably just retrace their route from Rolla. If all is going well they may opt to head back up US Hwy 63, which is smoother, has much wider shoulders, and at least one MONSTER hill to contend with. To say nothing of more traffic.
Anyway, this trip went flawlessly, and new team members got a lot of valuable road miles under their belts. We don’t have photos to post, but if you want to see how the last Licking practice run went, just look here.

By Now All Of The Solar Car Teams Are Home And Rested……….

……….or finally reporting to their summer jobs.*
DSC_0189ASC.jpgHere are a few odds ‘n ends to pass on before we get back to reporting on the other stellar S&T design teams.
Lots of finish-line backslapping, smiles, congratulations and overall relief.
The last ASC photos are now posted on the SandTDesign Flickr website.
DSC_0196ASC Nap.jpgNaperville put on a great event for the dozen or so teams that made the 1,100-mile trip.
Once all the solar cars were in, t-shirts were swapped, and Naperville North High School put on a great BBQ lunch (1st-class pulled pork in Chi-Town? Who’da thunk?), you couldn’t find your team members.
And it wasn’t because they buried their faces in their lunch plates (though they did). Hardly a soul still wore their original team shirts, so if you tapped on a teammate’s shoulder you might get answered in Mandarin, German, or Texan.
If S&T’s experience is any indication, most of these teams will get an enthusiastic welcome home. The Miners already have a steady stream of photo ops and invitations to public events that they need to answer.
*Or if they are lucky enough, to their first real jobs.

Solar Miners Hang On, Take 5th Place At Race End

The final ASC race leg, from Normal to Naperville, Illinois went a lot faster than expected, with five teams covering the 110 miles of Old Route 66 and the western Chicago suburbs in under three hours. Michigan (the winner), Minnesota, Bochum, Stanford, Missouri S&T and the Calgary Dinosaurs (really!) have been the fast group since leaving Oklahoma, and the Miners managed to arrive at the finish line at 1:01 p.m., just minutes ahead of the Dinos.
Michigan led today’s stage start, but Stanford and Minnesota managed to pass the Wolverines and cross the line first and second, respectively, in front of a nice crowd at Naperville North High School. The fatigue, stress, heat and breakdowns all seem forgotten. Team members are smiling, congratulating and praising each other, and most importantly, swapping t-shirts with their former competitors.
This happy bedlam was briefly interrupted when Illinois State staged an impromptu solar-powered burn out show. Those that could only see the “magic blue smoke” (which strikes fear in every electrical engineer’e heart) came running to see what the chaos was all about, but when they realized that ISU locked their front brakes and stepped on the ‘gas’, spinning their drive wheel, wild applause and laughter broke out.
The Miners were thrilled to see several of our storied S&T racing predecessors (along with other MSM/UMR/S&T alums) show up to greet the team. Some of the S&Tsolar car All Stars included Stephanie Maiden and Kelly Arrington, team leader and logistics boss in the ’05 pre-Letha days, respectively, Chris and Eric Pieper (with wife Toni and their two lovely daughters) who spanned the ’03 to ’08 squads.
The 2010 car was a near-total redesign from earlier Solar Miners, and the team is already pumped for 2012. Rumors abound that the next race will be limited to far less-expensive silicon solar cells, and that will be good for racing. Minnesota and Stanford both ran silicon arrays this summer and gave Michigan all they could handle, and the prospect of significantly lower budgets should increase the number of schools that can afford this wonderful engineering “brain sport.”
NOTE: If anyone has any great photos of Missouri S&T crossing the finish line today, we’d love to post them. Running up I-55 to beat the cars to the finish flopped completely as highway construction and speed-limit-fast solar cars made short work of that strategy.

The Weather For The Last Day of Racing?

Strong storms tonight, and cloudy with thunderstorms in the Naperville area. Here’s hoping that Solar Miner VII got a full battery charge tonight.
And by the way, none of the cars have windshield wipers or defrosters. Or even floor mats.