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Cal Poly students building solar car to try to break solar-powered land speed record

From just an idea to finally building parts for their prototype, the students in Cal Poly’s “Prove” or Prototype Vehicles Lab have been working day and night for the last year on their solar car that will potentially be the world’s fastest solar car ever built.

The engineering students at the PROVE Lab say that they were in part inspired to begin the solar powered car project by their teacher who used to hold the Guinness World Record for fastest solar car.

The current record is set at 56.75 miles per hour.

“We came from just a bunch of people working together and having no idea how to really do [this] effectively to now we operate very similarly to how start-ups in engineering would run a project,” Project Manager Will Sutton explains.

These students have been able to secure $250,000 as well as many other building materials for this project. When completed, the car will be 20 feet long.

“It’s really easy to design one part, it’s really easy to design a wheel, a ferring, a canopy – but when you put it all together to be one big solar car, you don’t realize how many other little systems on the car every little change affects,” says Chief Engineer of the PROVE LAB, David Alexander.

Due to the numerous small tweaks in the designs, the students have been doing countless mathematical formulas as well as using the school’s wind tunnel in order to perform tests on their prototype that will eventually be built to scale.

“What we’re really hoping to achieve with this is to use it as a tech demonstrator, to show how fast you can go using nothing more than commercial grade solar cells because the cells that sit on the car are the same kind you can get on your roof,” Sutton says.

While a fully solar powered car might be far off in the future for consumer use, adding solar power to electric vehicles might be here sooner than you think.

“The thing that prohibits people from using solar cars for long term use is that you can’t drive across the country with an electric car; you have to stop and charge it all the time. Well, imagine if you didn’t [have to do that] because you’re combining solar tech with preexisting electric technology; I think that’s in the very near future and I think that’s something we’re going to be seeing,” Sutton tells us.

The team plans to have the car completed by next spring. The Guinness World Record test is set for June 2017.

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