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UC San Diego's First Solar Car

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Engineers for a Sustainable World, Solar Car Team

San Diego, Calif., Sept. 29, 2016 – During the summer of his third year at the University of California San Diego, electrical engineering major Ari Chatterji was taking classes and felt the need to get experience doing something more hands-on before his senior year. He met fellow electrical engineering major Maaz Ahmad, who was the director of solar projects for Engineers for a Sustainable World, a student organization at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Together, they researched solar projects and came across the American Solar Challenge, a national competition to design, build, and drive solar-powered cars in a cross-country time/distance rally event. Chatterji and Ahmad established the University of California San Diego’s first Solar Car Team in the Fall of 2015 to compete in the challenge.

“The Solar Car Team is an entirely student-run project that aims to design, build, test, and race a solar powered vehicle in the American Solar Challenge,” said Chatterji. “We have over 20 students across a variety of disciplines and areas of study. The best part is the inter-disciplinary nature of this project for a common goal. Mechanical engineering majors are involved in the electrical engineering, and vice versa.”​

The team of students is working with members of the local San Diego community, as well as tapping into resources in the UC system.

“Our first step was to look at other teams – how they do it and why,” said Chatterji. “There are teams that have been doing this for 20 years. We got some help from the UC Berkeley team when we had questions.”

The team’s breakthrough happened when they met the mechanical lead for San Diego State University’s solar car, Ray Guardino. Guardino built a car in the 1990s, and has been in the industry for more than 20 years.

“Ray came out to our meetings every weekend and helped us get to where we are,” said Chatterji. “He’s been using a lot of his own resources to help us.”

The team needs around $100,000 in order to build a car that will be competitive in the American Solar Challenge. “We’re just starting out, and need sponsors.”

In the Spring, Chatterji contacted UC San Diego electrical engineering professor and department chair Truong Nguyen, who encouraged them to build a prototype of the electrical components. Nguyen helped the students find a space on campus and resources to build a working prototype.

“Being able to build a car during your college career gives students confidence that you can become a competent engineer,” said Chatterji. “It helps them stand out from other students by gaining important real-world experience and operating in an environment that prepares them for careers involving setting deadlines, budgets, designs, reviews while doing their best to control all the unforeseen variables that may arise.” 

Check out the design here.

“The electrical components that we use aren’t things we learn about in classes here,” said Ricky Ng, a fourth year electrical engineering major and the electrical team lead on the project. “One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is how hard it is to go from paper to prototype. That’s what makes an engineer.”

The team needs around $100,000 in order to build a car that will be competitive in the American Solar Challenge. If you are a company interested in sponsoring the team, visit ucsdsolarcar.org/sponsorship. You can also donate to the project at ucsdsolarcar.org/donations.

The team is advised by mechanical engineering professor Jan Kleissl. A prototype of the power system will be on display. will be on display at the San Diego Maker Faire on Oct. 1-2.

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Media Contacts

Deborah Jude
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-534-8390
djude@ucsd.edu

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