Using model solar racers as an introduction to engineering

Andrew Lau

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This engineering first-year seminar course was first offered in spring 2001 and is based on the successful middle school program, the Junior Solar Sprint. Student teams compete to design, build and race small-scale photovoltaic (PV)-powered vehicles. This hands-on experience serves many goals, most notably as a fun introduction to engineering design, analysis, and testing. Solar Racers makes a great topic because of the many relevant issues that first-year students can understand including renewable energy, vehicle physics, electrical circuits, team work, experimentation, material selection, design processes, mathematical analysis, and computer tools like spreadsheets and equation solvers. The use of knowledge and techniques from various courses and subjects helps demonstrate the application and integration so uncommon in the traditional first year of engineering. The culmination of the course is a race day where student teams compete with their classmates in a straight 70 foot long race. Two race heats are carried out, one with PV power and another with battery power. Teams prepare a summary report that describes their car details and highlights. Hands-on work is supplemented by brief lectures, readings, and homework problems. This paper describes the course and related resources sufficient to allow other interested faculty members to develop similar courses at the university level. Some of the engineering analysis may also be useful to middle school teachers and students to further the level of engineering rigor in similar projects. Experiences from five semesters of the course will be reviewed, along with recommendations for further improvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2007
Event114th Annual ASEE Conference and Exposition, 2007 - Honolulu, HI, United States
Duration: Jun 24 2007Jun 27 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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