Winner of the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education's 2013 Award for Excellence in Secondary Education!
High school student teams build and race sophisticated solar-powered RC cars with the help of an instructive online hub.
How do we reach today's high-school kids with vital messages about energy efficiency and renewable energy? It's not going to be easy - they've got smartphones and girlfriends and video games and boyfriends and some of them even have real drivers' licenses already. Good luck. Frankly, we would need something ridiculous like a crazy-fast solar-powered radio-controlled car race. Which we now have.
The Solar Roller demo car - scale speeds of 200 mph+
We all love solar energy. If only we all understood it.
Solar Roller RC cars bring out the eco-techno-maker-learner kid in all of us - and especially so for high schoolers. These custom-built creations are based on parts from 1/10 scale radio-controlled cars but use hand-soldered solar arrays to generate power. The result is a flat, wide, mercilessly efficient craft that can keep going nonstop until the sun sets. Envision your oven door traveling faster than you can sprint - throughout an hourlong race.
While Solar Rollers are made of tangible hardware, what they actually represent is a valuable opportunity for deep, engaging hands-on learning in high schools. Through the process of designing, building, testing, refining and eventually competing, students push themselves and their teammates to learn more about energy efficiency, photovoltaics (solar electricity), motors, batteries, material properties, friction and more. The team starts by building a solar-powered RC car, but the main goal is building their lifelong love of learning.
Solar Rollers do not represent a huge technological leap in terms of advancing what today's top engineers know about solar photovoltaic, electric car or radio control technology. However, for high school students they represent an obviously exciting opportunity for project-based STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) education. These machines naturally attract students who begin brainstorming immediately about improvements to the mechanical and electrical efficiency of the car and maximizing the electricity generated from sunlight by the cartop array.
Accessible Solar Racing.
Currently, interested middle-school students (grades 6-8) compete in the nationwide Junior Solar Sprint - essentially a solar drag race using small string-guided kit cars with simple preassembled solar panels and no electronics. While good competitions do exist for high school students building manned cars and boats, participation is limited to highly committed schools close to race venues. For most students in the US the next available step in solar racing would come after high school. The far more committing American Solar Challenge is a university-level competition complete with large teams of engineering students, budgets reaching into the millions and full-scale solar cars raced by drivers on the open road across continents.
The Solar Rollers race series intends to fill this gap with practical, achievable solar racing during the vital high school years. Budgets are big but not huge (up to $1000 in parts per car) and the car's systems are complex but not incomprehensible. Without carrying a driver, the cars can be much lighter - even to scale - and thus much more efficient than a larger manned vehicle.
Go for it.
While Solar Rollers uses guidelines similar to a competition originally run for French technical colleges, the actual regulations have been left as open as possible to promote innovation. The solar collection area is limited, as is the overall footprint of the car, and the finished vehicle cannot weigh less than one kilogram. Other than that - aside from some simple safety considerations - go for it. If you want to run a lighter car with no battery, go for it. Amorphous solar cells? Go for it. A different type of battery chemistry with a different solar panel to match? Go for it. Three wheels? Go for it. In short, just go for it.
We would also like to thank Aspen Science Center for their brave early sponsorship and partnership to help get this program started. Their contribution was doubled through energy education matching funds from Garfield Clean Energy.
SEI's Solar Rollers High School Program would not exist without your support! Click the Donate Now! button and be sure to indicate "Solar In the Schools" in the comments area on the donation payment page
SOLAR IN THE SCHOOLS CONTACT INFO
Noah Davis Solar In the Schools Manager email@example.com (970) 510-6210