In order to do this, I’m refining a power-balancing model that has been built up by team members in previous years, and which takes into account both the environmental variables at play and the real-time data produced by the car.
We have lots of sub-teams that contribute to making the solar car work – there’s the solar array team, the aerodynamics team, the mechanical, electrical, coding teams, etc. – and there are optimal efficiency solutions for each of those teams. I have to make sure that we are achieving the global optimum for the car as opposed to just the local one for each sub-team.
A classic example of that is the curvature of the car. The aerodynamics team doesn’t want the car to be completely flat. Designing the main body as an elongated airfoil is the optimal solution for achieving the lowest drag in real-world conditions. However, that’s not the optimal solution for the solar array. The solar cells produce the most power if they are perfectly horizontal. There is a balance that has to be struck.
Many of my most memorable Stanford experiences have been with the Solar Car Project. In 2015 I got to spend a month in the Australian Outback with the team, testing the car and then actually racing it. Being in the middle of nowhere with your teammates, having just one task – to execute perfectly as a race crew – and seeing the car you helped build running smoothly at highway speeds – there’s nothing quite like that. It really is an amazing project because you bring it from zero to fully functioning racecar in just over a year. And that experience is invaluable.