How to design a more realistic solar vehicle

The University of Michigan solar car team – a perennial power in national and international design competitions – is facing a new challenge this year: It needs to get real.

According to the team, new regulations for the 2013 World Solar Challenge in Australia this coming fall “will make the entries a bit more like cars you see on the road.”

Looking at Quantum, the vehicle that won the 2012 American Solar Car Challenge – the team’s fourth consecutive ASCC championship – you can see that wasn’t so much the case in the past.

This year’s rules apparently aren’t going to turn all the cars into standard-looking vehicles – “practical solar-powered cars are not exactly on the horizon,” the team said. Still, the changes represent a fairly significant move in a mainstream direction.

“This year’s entries must have four wheels instead of three, a broader field of vision for the driver, and a seat that’s higher than the driver’s feet,” Michigan said. “Over the course of the race’s development more than 20 years ago, drivers have gone from lying down to seated, and now their posture must be further refined.”

With the new rules and the likely very new look, the Michigan team decided it ought to come up with a new name. For nearly a decade, the team name has always had a name that ended in “um,” which of course captures the initials of the Ann Arbor university. Thus, SpectrUM, Momentum,Continuum, Infinium and last year’s Quantum.

This year? The team recently made the big reveal in a short video:

The university calls Generation a nod “to the thousands of alumni and students since 1990 who have built the team into the powerhouse it is today,” noting that in addition to being reigning national champions, “U-M’s team has finished first in the North American Solar Challenge seven times. It has come in third in the World Solar Challenge five times.”

We’ll be on the lookout for when the team shows off its World Solar Challenge car in June, but you can also follow them on Twitter.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling