Onward to 2017

Team Goals

Although it's been a bit too long since the last update, rest assured the team's been harder at work than ever before. We're constantly pushing ourselves to the limit to show just how excellent of engineers we are. And what better a way to do so than to debut our talent on the largest stage in the solar car world - World Solar Challenge 2017. We are determined to work at a pace that will allow us to race in Australia next October. But we can't do it alone. We're setting up a crowdfunding page through Indiegogo to raise money to help cover the cost of transporting our car and team to Australia to race against the best of the best.
Help us out at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fighting-illini-vs-world-solar-challenge-car-competition#/


We are currently updating our team sponsor packet. There have been considerable improvements within the team since our last update, and we are excited to elaborate that in our new packet. We also had the wonderful opportunity to meet with representatives from Molex, a sponsor helping us with our electrical connections. We were able to see some of the innovative technologies the company creates and how some of these could be implemented into our car.
A good chunk of the team showed up to learn how beneficial our partnership with Molex could be.
Some sample connectors provided to us by Molex.


Our slightly off-campus work space known as Linview has become a second home for the entire composite subteam, and for good reason. Fixing, sanding, and priming the molds in order to do fiberglass and carbon fiber layups is a manually intensive process that's had half the subteam occupied for months. The other half has been working on building a simple and safe oven to cure the layups. With the oven successfully working, all efforts are now on the creation of fiberglass molds for the wheel fairings.

An encompassing view of the progress at Linview.

The progression of priming the fairing (3 images above) to finally laying up carbon fiber.
Some of the team trying to stay warm inside the futuristic looking oven as we prepare it for initial testing.
The dynamics subteam has been working equally as important duties. Performing force analysis on the suspension system through CAD in order to optimize it in the future, the team is finding out how the car will react to turns, breaks, and bumps at various g-forces. We've also created a thorough analysis of the various nuts and bolts we've decided to use as a standard system, and what kind of loads they can take in what directions. These two combine to determine the very important aspect of our car's safety. For example, once a specific location has been analyzed, resulting in us knowing the forces and applied loads at that point, we can reference the nut and bolt analysis to determine whether there is a factor of safety of at least 2 at that location. If there isn't, then we'll have to find a way to make it safer. Those more interested in the nut and bolt analysis can read a brief description below.

Screenshot of g-force testing.

On any point of connection with bolt and nut are used to sustain the required normal and shear stresses, we are interested in finding the relationships between these two forces and make a selection of a proper grade and size bolt and nut. Also, considering the preload stress when we fasten the nut, we want to know how much torque we want to apply to make sure it’s within the safety standard. The king equation to make sure the bolts and nuts are going to be reliable and safe is the following:


First, Nd and Vd are the designed ultimate stresses for the bolts, the N and V will the normal and shear stresses the bolt need to withstand at that joint, and Ni is the initial load caused by fastening the bolt. The initial load depends on the coefficient of friction, the bolt geometry, and so on. With the calculation, we come up with plots for the four specific bolt size that will be used in our car. With all these information given, when building a car, people will be able to look at the loads at the certain point, telling which bolt size will be used and how much preload will be put to fasten the bolt.


The precharge board, which works in conjunction with the power distribution system, and the test bench boards were sent out for manufacturing before Thanksgiving break and are now in our possession. This is integral as the test bench system will provide a platform for testing nearly every board in the electrical system with relative ease. Meanwhile, using LPCXpresso as an interface to debug our boards has been harder than we expected, but there are a number of people on the team who had past experience with the tool and they taught the rest of the members how to set it up. The battery system has been the least cooperative of our systems so far, since we have had mysteriously dead batteries for a period a few weeks ago. Rather excitingly however, we were recently able to put the whole system together to operate and control the speed of one of the motors.


New members are still in the process of learning CFD.  They have been very successful in matching the results of the Ahmed Body case. More experienced members are making great progress developing abstract model files to enable more efficient meshing and case setup. We’ve experienced some hiccups automating the post processing with PyFoam, but we hope to be back on track in the coming weeks!


Over the 2016 fall semester, the solar group has been working on teaching new group members about solar cells and training them on the complete process of making a module for the car. Most of our encapsulation modules are test modules and have yet transitioned to producing car modules. We have also decided to conduct all further encapsulation processes using our own oven (encapsulator) after an update with larger silicon heating pads during the winter break. The solar group has also tested previous modules out in the sun and are working on creating a database of module performances under different weather conditions for future output prediction. Two of our group members are working on making an IV curve tracer that will make cell testing easier and more efficient. We also used silicon adhesive to attach modules onto a wooden platform but further practice is needed in order to attach precisely. Below are various images of solar array testing on a beautiful day.

Closing Remarks

As always, if you've made it this far, then thanks for reading! Let us know how we can improve communication to you (more frequent, funnier writing, etc.). As a team, we know we wouldn't be here without your support, big or small. We're hoping to post more frequent updates as we near the completion of the car this upcoming semester. Happy holidays and don't forget to support us!

Welcome to Fall 2016

School's (been) in and the team's (been) hard at work. After a successful summer of learning, building, and progressing with the car, we wanted to maintain our momentum to carry us through to have a strong start to the semester. And if you keep reading, you'll find out that yes, we've done just that.

Organization Awareness

Quad Day is, without a doubt, one of the best times of year to attract the attention of potential members. And what's more eye grabbing than a 6' tall solar array, a mock chassis with legitimate suspension, various tangible/playable electronics, and most importantly, enthusiastic team members?
Sunny skies with a bit of clouds make for the best Quad Day weather. Here we see various members from all our main subteams ready to engage with interested and potential new members.
Not only was our mock chassis eye-catching, it was also a nice place to sit in the shade, as well as act as a table for many of our informative posters and playable gadgets.
Smiles all around as one of our aero members enthusiastically held up a sign calling to any students interested in aerodynamics. Also pictured are some of the electrical components that people could interact with. Mainly present were the prototypes of the steering wheel, dashboard, and brake pedal.
Beyond the famed Quad Day however, there are still more opportunities at the beginning of the year for organizations like us to reach out to students. And you bet we were there!
So we couldn't have the curiosity-inspiring mock chassis in the ECEB for ECE Ignition. But we were able to display everything else in addition to our sleek looking, equally as eye catching red motor.  
And here we are at the engineering's own little Quad Day, E-Night. You can barely see our members and table on the left because there are so many interested people around it!
All of our persistence led to two decently packed informational nights and record numbers of people interested in the team.

And so, a little over one month into the school year, the dust has settled, and people have come and gone. But those who remain have done some good work in such a short period of time. Our summer momentum has carried through, and we're making good progress in both the short and long term. Will it be easy? Of course not. But what fun would it be if it was? And without further ado, here are what each of the subteams have been up to:


We got a new work space! Thanks to a very kind sponsor, we've upgraded from the 3 self storage units that served as our main operations base over the summer to a large, coherent work space. Equipped with lights, a bathroom, and some friendly neighboring businesses, it's a much better location for us to produce great things. After moving in our gargantuan foam molds in, we wasted no time in getting the space set up for working by building various tables and shelves, and then got back on track to building the necessary structures to continue working on the car.
About 2000 sq. ft. of emptiness was quickly and surely filled to make the place much homier and workable.
A little rain doesn't stop us from getting the job done. But we definitely make sure that not only are our sensitive foam molds safe from the water, but more importantly that our members are safe from slipping and other hazards too. Can't stop, won't stop.
Here a member is fixing minor damages to the foam mold that result from machining. It takes quite a bit of patience and fine motor skills to perfectly apply body filler, acrylic putty, and various other fillers in just the right amount.
And as we previously mentioned, the dynamics system on the mock chassis is fully functional and could very well be used on the actual car when the time comes.

A mix of blood, sweat, and tears (or maybe just sweat) combined with water jetting and tireless machining is how these beautiful aluminum parts came about.
The composite/shell fabrication team's plans are focused on making the actual shell. This involves first repairing any damages to the molds and sanding them smooth, then priming them, and finally, laying up carbon fiber and core materials that will ultimately be the car's exterior. Other, more specific interests include the computational analysis and testing of our materials in order to get a better idea of how they will perform in the real world before we create them on large scale.
Similarly, the dynamics team is working to also simulate the the effectiveness of the machined parts through simulations and are looking to find ways to improve them so we have a faster and safer car.


One of our main focuses this semester is the battery box. We'll have an array of 28 15-battery banks lined up inside the box with circuit boards and large relays on the sides. The previous battery holder was too large, so we designed PCBs to handle the connections for the voltage and temperature data collectors, while also holding the batteries in place. Thinking ahead, we need to decide how to handle the data from the temperature sensors and find out if there is an alternative to spot-welded nickel tabs.
Senior members prepare the newcomers for an especially productive semester.
The other main goal is the test bench. This will allow us to plug in different boards and measure how they react to simulated situations like low power from the solar array. It will also serve as a step-off point for the complete system which will go into the actual car. Compiling this system requires a lot of people to know individual systems, so it's great that we have enough people who are eager to learn that it should be completed by the end of the semester. Soon, hopefully, our subteam will no longer be the only expert on each board, and we can start effective information transfer to the new members.
First revision of our dashboard.

Second revision of our dashboard.


We've made great progress since the beginning of the semester. The team now has nearly all post processing automated using a tool called PyFoam. We are also close to fully automating our meshing processes thanks to a generous donation from Novus Nexus. In the near future, this automation will open up more time to analyze results and generate new concepts.
Regarding new members, we've been using CAD as a means to get them up to speed on general sub-team operations while also planning for future competitions. We’re currently training them to use PTC Creo so that they will be able to start modeling the next generation vehicle by the time the current one is finished, if not sooner.
We're also introducing new members to computational fluid dynamics (CFD) by studying the Ahmed Body case.


Solar module encapsulation training has been progressing within the clean room for two weeks, so team members are getting more acquainted with the process and some are honing their soldering techniques. The heating of the cell arrays within the autoclave has been fixed after various modules and tests encapsulations during August and September. We are also looking into constructing our own “heat press” oven for encapsulation so we don't have to rely on the autoclave as it can be difficult to schedule.
New members being instructed on how to prepare the solar cells for soldering in the clean room.
Celebrating one of the first of many nights hard at work as a team in the clean room, members "dab".
Top film adherence has been mostly consistent over recent tests, though we are still considering alternatives hoping to get better results. And last but not least, some members are working on the IV curve tracer so stay tuned for the results of our module performance tests!
Array testing.


We got off to a very successful start to the semester. Most notably, we were excited to meet with Chevron Phillips Chemical (CPC) and Molex Electronic Solutions. We learned that CPC only recently started recruiting on our campus, so we were grateful they took the time to meet with us after the Engineering Career Fair. Over dinner at Firehaus, we enlightened the CPC representatives of the enthusiasm that our engineers and business students have for the project, while also establishing a more consistent means of communication that we hope will only be the start of a productive relationship. More recently, we also had the opportunity to meet with Molex and similarly realized a great chance to develop a relationship with some of their mechanical and electrical engineers as well. In the future, we hope to maintain and improve our relations with donors and also show our new work space to them if they are interested.


Due to the growing nature of our team, not only population-wise but also location-wise, it can be a bit difficult to connect with people in different subteams. In an attempt to maintain more team cohesion, we're trying to organize an occasional team-wide social event. Our first run was a cookout at the new mechanical team work space - inspired by other car teams doing something similar - and was ultimately quite successful.

Members from every subteam, newcomer and seasoned alike, were at our gathering to enjoy good food and company.
We've got a pretty good photographer on the team who makes these burgers and hotdogs look just a bit better than they actually taste. Not picture is everyone's favorite DIY chicken wings.

A cool simulation image from the aerodynamics team. Not the best outcome as the car is excessively titled downwards, however the aerodynamics team is currently working on a newer and more accurate simulation!

In the spirit of Pokémon Go, please enjoy this hastily GIMPed (not Photoshopped) animation. Guess we'll have to wait to know if it was super effective or not.

Crunch Time

Shakespeare pun in the title and a Pokémon reference? What an odd juxtaposition. But yes, it's over half way through the summer and just about a month until reality hits us that we've got a class at 8am the next day. Combining this with the fact that some team members on campus are starting to go on short - and well deserved - vacations for varying reasons, there really isn't that much "usable" time left this summer. So we're sort of in a crunch for time in order to get as far as we can on the car, but just as importantly, to produce the things we promised we'd show off at Quad Day in the demonstration area by the MCB building (*nudge nudge* stop by please).

general tl;dr - Team members being on and off campus due to vacations makes things a bit difficult to coordinate and the rush to be ready for Quad Day sets in.

Subteam tl;dr

electrical tl;dr - most efforts are focused on a usable dashboard and subteam leader is out on the American Solar Challenge with his undergraduate alma mater UC Berkeley (@CalSol good luck!)
solar tl;dr - making more solar arrays for testing
aero tl;dr - fixed the problems with the new simulation machines so they're more accurate and are looking into automating the entire simulation process from start to finish
mechanical tl;dr - enjoying some great Flextop locknuts from Locknut Technology, receiving foam molds next week and both the suspension for the mock chassis and wheel steering mechanisms are coming into fruition


There seem to be a lot of different little projects going on, but they mostly all lead to being integrated on the dashboard. Even better is that we're working with greater and greater levels of independence, but are still combining all our results together well! The dashboard represents one of the major milestones since it combines both the electrical and mechanical teams into the same project. And what better a way to learn than interdisciplinary work?

A simple, yet elegant, 3D rendering of what our dashboard and steering wheel might look like some day soon. 
Actual circuitry is (depending on who you ask) not as pretty as a 3D rendering might be, but it sure is useful! The above boards depict the dashboard control, lights, and steering all connected and working together.

The result of trying to fit an electrical team schedule and mechanical team steering wheel design on the same white board.


We've been working on the stylishly named "The 99", a set of solar cells that compose a sub-array of an actual array. "The 99" only accounts for 1/5 of what its full array will be. Unfortunately, making sub-arrays will most likely be the only thing solar will really be doing for a while (as there are a LOT of  them to make), so at the very least, we have a fun time doing it.
How do the pros get so good at soldering? By challenging themselves of course! What's a bigger challenge than soldering on top of packages on top of  a rolling chair in a confined space while wearing an uncomfortable suit?
The squad assembles. Not perfect in rank and file, but close.
Sometimes we have so much fun that we have to take a break.


We switched from compute optimized clusters to memory optimized clusters which solved all of our problems. The memory optimized clusters have been able to handle extremely dense meshes which should be improving our accuracy tremendously. Also, simulations are running in almost no time.
For the future, we'll be focusing on automating this entire process, from mesh to final results. We have a software in mind at the moment that should be able to help us with that. This should free up a ton of time on our small aero team for people to focus on applied aerodynamics instead of the computational side of things.
Besides the stress tests mentioned last time, we also successfully ran a simulation of the vehicle in cross wind. The images below are from this.
As I am a mere writer from the mechanical team, I don't really know what's going on here. I hope to one day, but these are just cool.


We've been anxiously waiting to hear updates about the machining of our foam, and our hopes have been answered. For now, the plugs are scheduled to be completed by next Friday which means we can finally get to work on them again. But in the mean time, we've been working on the mock chassis.
The body is basically done, but that was the easy part. The harder, more involved portion, is the suspension and steering wheel system that, assuming it's done to expectations, will be the same set we'll use in the actual car. So the stakes are high, but so is our enthusiasm and determination. There will be a lot of machining, water jetting, and general building of stuff in the weeks to come. And with the help of the Flextop locknuts from Locknut Technology, we're sure to be safe and secure.

You don't really come to appreciate the magic of machines until you have to drill 48 holes in various metal pieces by turning a drill press. The above is the mounting system for the car's suspension (e.g. wheels).
We've evolved to achieve flight. This means that Houston, we have no problems. When finished, neither the mock chassis nor the car will actually be this high off the ground, but it's good to know we can lift it this high. 

Attempts to finalize the design of the steering system involve a lot of erasing, straight lines, and unfortunately at the time of this picture, question marks, which have since then been unquestioned.
The current plan for the steering system involves various carbon fiber tubes, aluminum universal joints (U-joints), an in-house designed steering wheel with appropriate electronics attached, and, the most legit part of the system, a quick release system used by F1 cars that will allow for the removal of our steering wheel in the event that the driver needs to quickly get out of the car (i.e. emergency).

Thank you again for reading. We hope you've enjoyed it. If anyone reading this is on a team competing in the American Solar Challenge, then we wish you the best of luck! Till next time, enjoy the rest of this waning summer.
The electrical team has the voltage stack monitor boards for the BPS all set. They've been thoroughly debugged and are almost ready to evolve from Rev A to Rev B.

If you thought we'd already given up with regular updates, you'd only be slightly wrong (based on our track record of updates). Also, if you don't get this reference, then find someone who does and they'll tell you what you're missing out on.

Sorry For the Delay and Changes

So much for a weekly post huh? Due to technical difficulties (mostly the lack of internet for a day) and the festivities that accompany the 4th of July, there was no post last week. So at least that missed one is somewhat justified. This post is late just because I forgot and was busy when I remembered I had this responsibility. If it's any consolation, it has been a quiet few weeks that would have made for underwhelming updates if not combined into one. Also, updates will now be published after our weekly Saturday meeting;

general tl;dr - Updates will now be published on Saturdays and we'll try not to miss posts anymore.

Subteam tl;dr

solar array tl;dr - broke some glass, ordered the wrong supplies, moving solar array production into giant oven, but learned a lot and the future is bright.
aero tl;dr - working out the kinks with the new computers but at least the stress tests went flawlessly.
mechanical tl;dr - foam plug machining has been delayed but the mock chassis/go-kart is coming along nicely.
electrical tl;dr - with lots of progress made, especially on coding, we'll be moving forward to making/combining components to make a basic version of the full electrical system to run the motors.

Solar Array

As always, solar's just been up to, well, making solar arrays, this time with some twists. Some of the various layers that enclose the arrays have been changed, for better or worse. Unfortunately, the worse has occurred as we accidentally ordered a top film that was overwhelmingly under sized; basically the thickness of the plastic wrap you use to pack food. Other bad news to follow.
The glass serves as a very smooth and consistent surface to perform the solar array encapsulation on. This is important so that the solar cells are not damaged or warped in any manner that could negatively affect their performance.
We wouldn't recommend attempting this at home as this was performed by professional tinkering students.
While broken glass is dangerous, it can fracture in rather fun and artistic shapes... Such as this pistol-like structure.
For reasons unknown to us (because there are a lot of variables that could have been the cause), the glass we use beneath the solar arrays has shattered... again. Even more unfortunately, this was the first time the glass pictured above had been used. And even sadder than that was the fact that it cost $52. We have therefore decided to ditch the seemingly unpredictable glass for a more reliable polished metal plate. And while none of us have much experience with this, it seems like a more cost and time effective strategy for the long run.
Who knows, if we get good enough, polishing metal might come in handy elsewhere. Might we see a #illinisolarcarsummercarwashfundraiser? (probably not but we can dream).
Here's a small sample of what comes out of the encapsulation process assuming the glass doesn't break or any other things go wrong (even though we did mess up on this one too). We did at least successfully develop a new way of wiring the cells.
The above is a pretty good looking sample. And kind of like the modeling industry, looks mean quite a bit for the cell's performance. The stuff on top film (literally a film on top of everything else) is nice and smooth. EVA (essentially a glue to bind everything together) was also nice, but overflowed quite a bit, making it hard to remove the array from the encapsulation table. Arguably most important however is the fact that these cells are not connected in the traditional manner that would involve soldered wires that run parallel with the height of the picture, but rather at 90 degree angles instead. While we unfortunately don't have a picture for this, just know that it's really important for the success of our car.
Further tests of large arrays will be done in the autoclave, which, for all intents and purposes, is a large, super, industrial oven used for many engineering purposes.
So at least solar array team had one good thing among the series of unfortunate events.


As always, aero team's continuing to run simulations, now using the super awesome and powerful computers discussed in the last team update. Like any new system, from the nationwide healthcare to the local team messaging app, ours has had its problems. But our dedicated members have been working out the kinks with mostly successful results. Also, stress tests on these news systems, which are necessary to ensure that they'll keep up with the vast simulations we'll throw at them, have gone smoothly as well.
Why the Flash? Well a couple of reasons: 1) One of the most powerful heroes in the DC universe 2) It's nice to have a picture to break up the text chunks 3) Bonus points if it's pertinent to anything, which it is as it turns out we have a 4th simulation computer named after this legendary speedster (so let's hope the computer lives up to its namesake).


If you've stuck with us since the first summer update, you'll know that we celebrated the successful shipping of our giant foam blocks to be machined into the shape of the car. It is with deep regrets that we inform you that due to technical difficulties over at the company that's machining the blocks for us, this process has been delayed. But looking at the glass half full, we're hoping for the best when we hear back from them sometime this week on the forecast of our machining. In the mean time, we've been finalizing our plans for the spray booth and oven, and have been making good progress on the creation of parts at the machine shop (now that we've got a member with 24/7 access) and waterjet cutter (now that we've got more members trained to use it).
Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of the actual parts that were created, so here are some good looking scraps. On top of the gear-ish shaped steel, we have an aluminum cake. The waterjet cuts through metal like a knife on warm-ish butter.
On the left you'll see the mock chassis coming into fruition. It's flipped compared to the last time we pictured it as it is now resting how it'll be driven. The driver fits snuggly into the compartment. On the right, you'll see our attempt at supply and work space reorganization (again).
These are not the droids you're looking for.
Definitely nothing suspicious here.


And last but certainly not least, we've got a lot to present from the electrical team. They've been busy and hard at work (as usual) these past couple of weeks, and their results are a testament to their efforts. A lot of time has been spent on the ancillary side of things with some power distribution debugging thrown in there too.

Are those mini-lightsabers? Unfortunately no, we don't have a lightsaber sub-team (yet). This is an example of the lights board and dashboard working together. It's beautiful isn't it?
Apparently videos aren't captionable, so at least it makes for an easier to read description. While short, the video shows the dashboard display counting numbers up. And having all passed kindergarten, we know how exciting and important being able to count is for, well, everything in life.
Viewing the larger picture, CAN, the data network backbone of the car, is now confirmed to be working on at least four boards! On top of all that, because of our continual progress, especially with the coding/debugging side of things, we're able to do some basic control functionality. This means we're now working on the next step of making the electrical system a full system - to spin the motors on the test bench using the Little Battery Box (which represents 1/4 of what the car's full capacity will be) to power them and the dashboard in order to control them.

As always, thank you for your viewership. Like any team, we couldn't be where we are without the support of our sponsors, family, and friends because while we're the brains of the operation, you're all in our hearts while we do it, fueling us on.