The 2012 American Solar Challenge

CalSol’s newest solar car, Impulse.

 

Today I embark on a journey. I’m going to go to a lot of new places, meet a lot of new people, and face challenges that I haven’t faced before. This is very exciting. This is an adventure well worth documenting.

 

I’ll start at the beginning. Almost 2 years ago, in the fall of 2010, I joined a team called CalSol, also known as the UC Berkeley Solar Vehicle Team. As you might expect, this team builds solar vehicles. More specifically, we design, build, and race solar cars in national and international competitions. If you want to know more about the team itself, visit our website – a quick google search for CalSol will get you there. Here, I will be talking more specifically about my own involvement with the team.

 

When I first joined, I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing. I hardly knew anyone on the team, I didn’t have any idea of how to build a solar car, and I didn’t know how involved I wanted to get. You might wonder, then, why I even joined the team in the first place. Well, there were a few reasons. I thought the idea of building a solar car sounded cool. I had some friends who wanted to join too. I wanted to get some hands-on engineering experience. And I wanted to feel generally more involved in campus activities at Berkeley. The most important reason of all, however, is that I wanted to make friends. I was having trouble making friends in my classes, and I wanted to expand my friend group outside of the people that I lived with. I will say that, at this point, all of the goals I had in joining the team have been accomplished.

 

I started out not doing very much at all for my first semester on CalSol, fall 2010. I was on a subteam, the Shell Team, who was responsible for fabricating the outer shell of the vehicle which was to become Impulse, our most recently created car. Impulse was set to race in the World Solar Challenge of fall 2011, aka WSC, where solar car teams from around the world compete in a race across the Australian outback. Shell Team was small and scattered, and the leader was very hands-off, so I didn’t have much to do originally. That all changed in the spring. Spring 2011 was very grueling – we were rushing to get the car made by the summertime in preparation for WSC in the fall, and the shell was not close to being made yet. When the Shell Team leader stepped down from his position, I quickly filled his place despite having no idea how to build the shell of a solar car. I stumbled around for the whole semester with only a handful of people on Shell Team to work with, but with a last minute push by almost all of CalSol, we eventually made an awful shell that was just barely good enough to do the job. Fast-forward through the summer and Impulse is complete (pictured above), and again through the fall and it has already completed the 2011World Solar Challenge (placing 20th/37), which sadly I did not attend. So where do I fit in now? Well it turns out that there is in fact another race after that, the 2012 American Solar Challenge, or ASC. This takes place in summer 2012. While I missed the WSC in Australia, I was not going to miss this race.

 

And thus, I find myself here, in the cold Nevada desert at night, typing away on a bench at a campsite while the rest of my teammates attempt to sleep in a packed tent. I am going to be racing, driving the solar car that I helped to build, in a race to compete against teams from other universities throughout America. And to do that, I need to get to the start of the race – in Rochester, New York. My adventure across the United States of America begins.

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