No, that is not the world's most awesome Michigan Wolverines beer pong table. It's a million-dollar race car that's powered by the sun, and in the most recent epsiode of Translogic, our sister site visits the University of Michigan Solar Car Team to learn all about it.

The Wolverines have been racing in international solar car competitions since 1989, having built 11 cars in the past 23 years. They've won the North American Solar Challenge six times, including the last three in a row, and will be defending their title this July. The team finished third in the World Solar Challenge last year in Australia, and is currently working on a new car design for the 2013 event.

The car itself, dubbed Quantum, is a poem to minimalism, light weight and efficiency. It can run at over 100 miles per hour, thanks to its ultra-efficient, 12-horsepower, in-hub electric motor and a low curb weight of just 320 pounds.

Scroll down to watch the full episode and see the U of M team in action.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 23 Comments
      Making11s
      • 2 Years Ago
      I know they can't replace the cars we have on the road, but solar cars are damn impressive.
      Ducman69
      • 2 Years Ago
      I find these competitions pointless and uninteresting, as it is a huge lost opportunity to advancing practical application of new technologies. If anything, all this race does is prove that solar power is completely inadequate for vehicle transportation, since it is only capable of moving a single person in extreme discomfort on an unsafe and impractical vehicle. They forgot about the moto "racing improves the breed", since none of this technology is helpful.
        JohnY
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ducman69
        I think you have a point, but only to a certain degree. You have to think of these as the supercars of efficiency and optimization, and that all the money poured into the research trickles down eventually especially when team partner with auto companies (GM sponsors U of M; Ford sponsored our NU team). Also, races are slowly changing their rules to force teams to make their cars more like conventional vehicles (things like banning recumbent driving position in favor of upright, multiple occupants, etc). Yes, we're still a very long way from practical solar vehicles, but you have to start somewhere, right? Also, "unsafe" isn't accurate either. the huge carbon fiber shells give ample crumple room for the driver, and every car is scrutinized for safety before racing. [I was in the solar car team for Northwestern (we had less than 20% the budget U of M has), and was one of the best learning experiences.]
        Young Woo Park
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ducman69
        As a alum of the team (05 MomentUM), I can say that tech advancements from solar racing does go into real-world applications. One of the better known tech is regenerative breaking. It's now used in hybrids, sports cars (i.e. KERS) and will eventually end up in regular passenger cars in the near future. These cars also have new high efficiency battery technology (Li-Poly) that will eventually replace lead battery in the cars. In addition to advanced power management system that will go into future electrical cars, things like advanced chassis construction, rear-view camera, LED indicator lamps, moving aerodynamic parts will help automotive technology moving forward. Thing is you can say the same thing about F1, Le Mans Prototypes and Dakar RallyRaid vehicles. These machines are not meant to be used as a daily driver but will help develop the technology.
        HollywoodF1
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ducman69
        Don't forget to factor in the value of the training these young engineering students are receiving in an important fledgling industry. And there is value to the working relationships and mutual inspiration that companies and universities are developing with this project.
        HollywoodF1
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ducman69
        How about the race's role as P.R. and marketing representative for a technology that can use all the help it can get in gaining social acceptance? People may be more likely to put panels on their houses or vote for solar power plants in their area. They say, "Don't sell the steak, sell the sizzle." And these cars offer a lot more sizzle to the public than a picture of black rectangles on a roof. They also tangibly demonstrate the relationship between the size of the panels and the power produced— a concept that people also have difficulty ascertaining from black roof rectangles.
        Generic
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ducman69
        You are more then welcome to continue your love affair with oil for the rest of your life. In the meantime, the rest of the world will continues to move forward. Just recently a new solar cell was announced that can absorb 96% of the suns energy. Sounds like practical application to me.
          Ducman69
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Generic
          You need to work on your reading comprehension, and for the record I am a huge advocate of alternative fuels including all-electric, biodiesel, and other promising technologies. What I was pointing out is how far removed from any remote practical application this ping-pong table is.
          Matthew Kaiser
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Generic
          even if you have a solar cell that can absorb that much sunlight, there is not enough area on top of the car to have an amount of power that can drive a car of significant weight. let say the top of the car has an area of 10 square meters, and the intensity of the light from the sun is 1500 watts per square meter (in perfect conditions that do not happen consistently). thats only 20 horsepower. that is nothing for a car. you cant do anything with 20 horsepower. sure, you could run one of those competition cars, but not a family car.
          Ducman69
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Generic
          @hanlond226: None of the technologies you described were pioneered or are in any way exclusive to solar powered vehicles. They are pioneered by the aerospace, aviation, and other automotive/motorcycle industry which all produce real world practical applications. So again, I ask, name a single technology developed by solar car programs that has a potential real world practical application. Just one.
          hanlond226
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Generic
          @Ducman69 You're moving the goal posts, but I'll bite. I point you to Michelin, not a solar racing team, but they supply tires to many of the top teams. There's a reason all the top teams use their tires: they currently make the lowest rolling resistance tires available, ones specifically designed for solar car racing. They use a compound different from normal road tires and higher pressure to achieve low rolling resistance. The experience gained from these tires can be put towards making low rolling resistance tires for production cars, helping fuel economy. http://www.michelin.com/corporate/confidential/financeDocuments/Highlights/2011/Products-Services-Innovations-first-half-2011.pdf
        Duck
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ducman69
        That is what is so great about the X-Prize competition, as it gears up for realistic vehicles as they have to seat at least two passengers with at least a 100 mile range and pass all federal motor vehicle safety requirements. :) I don't see myself driving a ping-pong table sweatbox that only an anorexic teenager could fit into to work.
        nabby711
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ducman69
        That is not the point of research and development. You state non of this technology is helpful because you are comparing it to a production automobile. The point of this is to examine the limits of current technology and/or develop new technology. Engineers can then find useful ways to implement those technology in our everyday lives. By your rationale, the space program is pointless because we are not all traveling in Jetson flying cars. However, the space program created or drove new technologies to be developed.
        Austin
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ducman69
        I'd beg to differ. Having watched the U of M solar car team race and design their cars, I can say that what they have learned tremendously about the importance of lightweight materials and efficiency. Remember, solar car is an electric car with a solar panel, therefore, what they do can be directly applied to current EV's such as regenerative braking, and aerodynamics. I don't know if you have been on a student run engineering team in college, but companies who sponsor these teams not only do it for publicity and recruitment, but also for the technology they develop directly. Solar car team definitely doesn't help the development of ICE's or traditional vehicle in a sense, but in the field of EV's and hybrids, the knowledge gained from these extreme environments are directly applicable. I do agree that when compared to traditional racing, these races can be boring unless you're directly involved.
        twhalm
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ducman69
        Remember solar power is extremely important weather it is on a vehicle or not. And you have disregarded the fact the these solar vehicles are pushing forward more technologies than just solar power. They are also pushing innovation in battery technology, power management, ultra efficient motors, light-weight construction, vehicle aerodynamics, and lightweight vehicle dynamics. Every one of those topics is relevant as we move forward technologically. In addition to raising the bar on all of those technologies the team of students behind the project are the people who will be making the world a better place to live in tomorrow. So I would urge you to reconsider your view point.
        Kevin Gu
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ducman69
        You're clearly not an engineer. Although we know that solar panels alone aren't going to run aren't going to be powering our cars, the development of the technology is important, and has been utilized. Aerodynamics, and the Fisker Karma has solar panels in its roof that power its ancillaries. I highly doubt that those would be there if it wasn't for the development that's been induced by this competition.
          Kevin Gu
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Kevin Gu
          Damn, I just got out-degree'd (I'm only most of the way to a mechanical engineering degree.) Still, I don't think it's fair to argue against working on developing a technology that has a lot of potential. While the solar cells in the roof of a Fisker may not do a ton right now, it's a good idea in theory (especially since I'm sure a lot of those cars spend much of their time in the Southwestern sun if they're driving, and probably really clean as well) and it can be used to supplement the battery.
          Ducman69
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Kevin Gu
          Actually, I am, with a mechanical engineering degree. Solar cell technology is not driven by nor requires solar vehicle development, as solar chargers are useful for a variety of electrical vehicles. Aerodynamics again is something that applies to all vehicles, and has absolutely nothing to do exclusively with solar car development. And slapping solar cells onto the roof of a vehicle is of almost no benefit whatsoever, and is done more as a green-statement than practical use. The Aptera has solar panels in the roof, and they are only strong enough to power a single fan that vents air through the cabin. You also cannot make vital systems reliant on solar power to operate since solar energy is so dependent on weather conditions and even small things like cleanliness of the car (don't wash your car for a week and the solar cells covered in a thick layer of pollen and dust like in the summer can severely impact efficiency).
      space
      • 2 Years Ago
      Wolverines!!!
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      amerifight
      • 2 Years Ago
      I think at best solar can charge plug in hybrids when there parked. Why don't hybrids do that? Small array on the roof?????
        awt_07
        • 2 Years Ago
        @amerifight
        They do, the Prius has solar panels on the roof that powers HVAC
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