Running on Sunshine

Photo by Duane Zehr

Additional images

Matt Hawkins
June 27, 2018

Though the shiny, angular contraption tooling around Shea Stadium’s track may look more like a Star Wars robot than a car, it may be the auto industry’s future. Covered in 405 cells like an 11-foot long honeycomb, it’s Bradley engineering students’ first solar car.

The vehicle places Bradley among a small group of American universities to offer a solar car experience.

Mechanical engineering seniors collaborated with electrical engineering seniors to ensure design accounted for the new power source.

“This is cool because it’s leading-edge technology that won’t go away soon,” said Aaron Green-Van Zee, of Evergreen Park, Ill. “Electric cars will be the only ones on the road in the future, so this was the perfect time to learn how they work.”

There’s little room for error in this first-time project. The vehicle runs on notoriously fire-prone lithium-ion batteries capable of powering a small Bradley office building for several hours. That juice can push the car to a top speed of 45 mph.

As a result, the team set modest starting goals of safety and reliability for the inaugural year. The car’s first milestone was a two-hour drive on Bradley’s neighborhood streets at the local speed limit. Future teams will enhance the car to compete in the Formula Sun efficiency contest and 2,000-mile American Solar Challenge open road race.

“I’m happy with the progress we made,” said electrical engineering major Evan Krueger, of Arlington Heights, Ill. “To get this far with a small team shows our group’s dedication to making sure the first year was a success.”

To meet this year’s goals, the team embraced a rigorous design approach, knowing first efforts likely wouldn’t hit energy efficiency marks sometimes accomplished by established car teams. This led to a sturdy 120-pound frame made of steel, with room for future teams to modify almost any component.

“It was a good challenge to do everything by ourselves where nothing was an ideal situation like our textbooks,” said team lead Zach Pakula, of Chicago. “We had to learn how to bridge information gaps like we’ll have to do in the real world when we’re in bigger teams with people from different backgrounds and languages.”

With the solar foundation in place, the car is ready for several years of development. As part of the newly formed BU Motorsports Club, it will continue to be a senior design project but will include hands-on learning for underclass engineering majors. The motorsports club unites the ME department’s four cars, which also includes ongoing Shell Eco Marathon, SAE Formula and SAE Baja developments.

The design team also included: Trevor Peterson, of Plainfield, Ill.; Kody Downes, of Peoria; Josh Strong, of Plainfield, Ill.; Jake Ruiz, of Gurnee, Ill.; and Caleb Happach, of Downers Grove, Ill. Mechanical engineering department chair Dr. Ahmad Fakheri and professor Dr. Jeries Abou-Hanna advised the project. Komatsu was a primary sponsor for the car.