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AMES, Iowa (AP) - The solar vehicle Iowa State University students are showing off across the state doesn’t look a lot like your standard American car.
But then again, it doesn’t look much like the tiny, slim solar racers you might be familiar with either.
In fact, with four doors and roomy cargo space under the rear hatch, this car looks almost like it would be at home in any car lot.
The ISU solar team, Team PrISUm, said this is the world’s first solar utility vehicle. And they’re taking it to all 99 counties, explaining their work and hoping to inspire younger students.
“This is the first solar car with a rear windshield,” Project Director Matt Goode told The Messenger (https://bit.ly/2rwybBk ). “The competition is for a multi-seat vehicle.
“We thought about more of a sports car shape, or something more like a bus . We’re from Iowa, we like bigger cars. If you’re going out on a date, you want two comfortable seats. If you are getting groceries, you want a rear hatch. You want space to store things.”
The Penumbra, as they call it, can run about 35 mph (about 56 kph) on solar power alone on a sunny day.
Its top speed is near 70 mph (about 112 kph), thanks to its onboard batteries. Those batteries give it a range of 150 to 200 miles (241 to 321 kilometers) without solar, or close to 300 miles (482 kilometers) with enough sun powering it.
The car weighs about 900 pounds. That’s heavy for a solar car, but about one third of a typical car its size, said team member Bradlee Fair.
Once the 99-county “Sun Run” is done, the team will take the car to Australia for the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.
There are two classes in that race; one is for straightforward race cars, Fair said. Her team will compete in the cruiser class, which requires cars to have multiple seats.
“At the end of the racing portion we will be judged - car review magazines will look at the practicality of our car,” she said. “We’re hoping to shock the world with our practicality. We’re the only team in the world that has the rearview mirror, and the rear window, and some trunk space. And of course, we have some amazing JBL speakers in the car; you have Bluetooth, Google maps, Google music. You can program your playlist specifically for who rides in the car.”
“Our biggest competition is from Germany, the Netherlands and Japan, so we really are racing on the international stage,” she said.
Fair is an aerospace engineering major. The PrISUm team includes 122 students from different majors, including business, elementary education, and designers.
“Anyone who is interested in helping was able to come up,” Goode said.
Goode has been on the solar team for four years, although work on this vehicle started two years ago.
“Two years ago, this project was just a blank sheet of paper and zero dollars,” he said.
Creating the vehicle took about three-quarters of a million dollars, he added.
After all that work it’s wonderful to get to drive the car and show it off, Fair said.
“She’s a little bumpier because she’s low to the ground. She drives kind of like a race car too,” Fair said. “You can’t quite bank like a race car, but she feels like you’re driving a race car.
“From my perspective it’s magnificent because of the amount of time we put into this car, and finally being able to drive it around to all the counties, and be like, this is what we’ve done with our life for the past two years.”
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