The Cal Poly Pomona solar boat team splashed into an overall sixth place in its latest competition, winning first in overall system design, solar system design and visual display.
Fifteen students from a variety of engineering disciplines participated in speed, maneuverability and endurance events at the 18th annual Solar Splash solar boat competition in Waterloo, Iowa. Students competed against teams from 17 other universities from June 13 to 17.
“Overall the students are learning valuable engineering lessons about testing and reliability of systems as well as being good competitors,” says faculty advisor Gerald Herder.
Preparing for the competition was not quite smooth sailing. A new rule this year mandated that most of the components had to be on the boat at all times, setting back the team’s strategy of using different motors for different events.
“The team designed and built a brand new boat hull this year, which is a lot of work and difficult to do and optimize in one year,” Herder explains.
Instead of using wood or fiberglass, the solar boat hull is a carbon fiber composite with a honeycomb structure, making it extremely light and strong. This is a technique used to construct Olympic racing canoes.
During spring break, students traveled to an industrial shop in Fremont to make their own solar panels that are lighter and more efficient than panels used for residential buildings. The panels were covered in a strong plastic sheet to protect them from breaking.
Cal Poly Pomona’s boat is 19 feet long and is designed for one driver. Instead of deriving its energy from wind or gasoline, it is propelled by the energy of the charged solar panels mounted on the boat’s floor and helped by auxiliary batteries.
Herder and volunteer advisor Jack Kobayashi supervised the team of students, who came from mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, electronics and computer engineering technology, and engineering technology.
The team is part of the Alternative Vehicle Club and has participated in Solar Splash since 2001. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Power Electronics Society, an international technical organization, sponsors the annual competition.