Solar Jackets impress at Expo

On April 17, the Solar Jackets demoed their latest project at the 2009 Georgia Career and Transportation Expo, located at the Delta Museum. The event was sponsored by Delta Airlines and featured prominent companies such as GM and Toyota.

The Jackets brought to the event a 2001 Audi converted to run purely on electric and solar power. Despite the spatial limitations of having to work out of a U-Haul, the Jackets considered their conversion successful. Michael Hunter, research scientist at Tech’s Information Security Center and faculty advisor for the Solar Jackets, was impressed by the level of intensity the club had put into the project.

“There’s a lot of self-organization [in the club]. I told them the path to get space was to show the administration, not just students, that we’ve got a lot of people working hard and they’d do well to welcome them,” Hunter said.

Even though space is not yet forthcoming, Hunter feels that the team is doing everything they can.

“Right now [we’re] trying to raise awareness for the student body. I have a lot of praise for the students in the club, and despite having no space they’re working hard.”

The Audi has a top speed of ninety miles per hour, a range of seventy to eighty miles, and is only two hundred pounds above the stock vehicle weight, an impressive feat considering the numerous modifications made to the car. It has solar panels for energy but it can also plug into a regular electric outlet to charge its batteries. Senior team members John Forrest, fourth-year ME, and Francisco Zimbardi, fourth-year EE, spearheaded and planned the project.

Despite the successful design and conversion, the team’s expectations going into the event were modest.

“We expected GM and Toyota to be there. We expected to be in the shadow of the vehicles they had,” Zimbardi said. “[There were] flight simulations, people that built electronics kits, racing teams, car companies, any sort of welding equipment. There were other technical colleges there. There was even one who had a formula one car,” Zimbardi said.

He admitted to being surprised at how many people their booth drew and the numerous business cards, invitations for private demonstrations, and offers of help and sponsorship they received.

“We were actually the big event of the show since [GM and Toyota] had just regular hybrids and we were the only one with a fully functioning electric vehicle. We probably got the most people in our booth, especially the younger people,” Zimbardi said. “The biggest question most people asked was why a car like this wasn’t being sold yet.”

The Solar Jackets considered showing the feasibility of electric vehicles as the most important aspect of their demonstration. Even though there still remains much research and development to be done, Zimbardi and Forrest both wanted to raise awareness of this field as well as clarify questions bystanders might have about it.

“A lot of people just almost didn’t believe that the car rode on batteries, they kept asking us and checking the hood to see whether the engine was still in.”

As for the future, Zimbardi and his team are undaunted by their current lack of space. They are planning to build a car that runs exclusively on solar power and are in the process of raising about $100,000 dollars to fund the project.