Eleanor will be superseded by a new vehicle that the team is designing for the 2011 race. And after more than two decades, solar cars are not even close to being commercially viable. Still, Pentacoff believes developing the technology is worth the effort. “Even if solar cars aren’t going to be practical, a lot of the components will be,” he says. “It’s a great test bed, and the technology could be applied to a lot of other things.” Battery management systems and power trackers designed for solar cars are already being adapted for other applications, including the control of stationary solar array systems.
It’s also a great experience that teaches team members hands-on lessons about design, fabrication, improvisation, and the handling of various materials, such as the composites they used to build the car’s sleek, lightweight body. And they get training on the fly in organization and fund-raising. “I learned a lot more through the solar car than a lot of my classes,” Pentacoff says. “It teaches about how things are made, how to make them cheaper and easier. You have a limited amount of materials and you have to figure out how to make do. It produces a lot of creativity and ingenuity.”
And of course, it builds powerful bonds among the team members, who celebrated reaching the finish line in Adelaide’s Victoria Square by jumping into a public fountain. “Hanging out in the outback, you get pretty tight with the team,” says Hickman.
But above all, it’s a thrill to design and build a car from scratch and put it to the test. “We do it,” Pentacoff says, “because it’s fun.”
See video and photos of Eleanor in the outback:e_SFlbtechnologyreview.com/Eleanor