The Solar Team has been busy in the clean room encapsulating solar cells with extreme care and precision.

New Reading Format

It has come to the attention of this blog that while some brave individuals have the ability to tackle the beast of reading paragraphs, many of us (college kids) have devolved to a state where phrases 140 characters or less are all our attention spans have time for. In the interest of appealing to our entire viewership, updates will now include tl;drs for general notices and every subteam. Slightly more advanced tl;dr-ers should consider scrolling down the page to look at the pretty pictures and maybe even laugh at the attempt at humor in the captions.

general tl;dr - each team will get a short summary at the beginning of each update and at least look at the pictures.

Subteam tl;dr

aero tl;dr - making use of our new sponsorship with Amazon Web Services by running simulations.
mechanical tl;dr - building a mock chassis that will essentially be a go kart and practicing techniques to fix the imperfections to the foam mold.
electrical tl;dr - ensuring the car won't explode by working on the little battery box, coding a ton, and enjoying our new sponsorship with Molex.
solar array tl;dr - creating more array modules for EOH display and efficiency testing and enjoying the help of our new sponsors Isovoltaic.

Aero Team

This is relevant in part because batarangs have to be aerodynamic to fly well. But more importantly - and even tweaked the quote doesn't fit perfectly but you get the idea - because they're the heroes Illini Solar Car deserves, and the ones it needs right now. So, we'll give them models to simulate, because they can take it. Because they're our heroes. They're silent guardians, watchful protectors - the aerodynamics team. *cue epic end music*

An even bigger mishap than not having any pictures for the solar array subteam last week was not even mentioning our wonderful aerodynamics team. Though the smallest in number, their simulations are crucial to the success for our car given that our greatest opponent is energy loss due to air friction.
With the help of our new friends at Amazon Web Services, we've managed to set up 3 simulation instances with names and descriptions as listed:

  1. Krypto - Named after Superman's less powerful dog. This setup sports 8 CPU's with 15GB of RAM.
  2. Thor - Though not as powerful as the actual mythical Norse god or superhero, it comes close. This setup's price to performance ratio (with 16 CPUs 30 GB of RAM) will most likely make it the most used instance.
  3. Brainiac - Another Superman reference - this time to a villain bent on accumulating information - is an absolute beast with 36 CPUs and 60 GB of RAM. Paired with 4000 Mbps dedicated bandwidth and you couldn't ask for a better machine.


Mechanical Team

If you tuned into last week's update, you'll know that we were rushing to finish the creation of large blocks of foam so they could be shipped out and CNC'd to the shape of our car. We are happy to say that all went well after this step, and we are now awaiting their return by around July 1st in order to continue our work. But that doesn't mean we have/will be sitting around till then.
While our connection to the foam isn't quite what SpongeBob and Patrick share, we definitely aren't dependent on it to make progress. 
One of our main efforts for the time being is to build a mock chassis out of wood. This entails us constructing a mechanically and structurally sound emulation of the main features of the car without the area the solar cells would occupy. This will give us a better visualization of how lots of the car's components will come together. Ultimately, we want to have all the electrical (battery, controls, etc.) and dynamic components (wheels, motor, suspension, etc.) attatched to the chassis such that a person could actually steer and drive the car (albeit very slowly).
As always, a person for scale. The mock chassis is essentially a 1:1 scale with the actual car, but with a simplification of geometry due to the limitations of wood. It's not the most comfortable ride in the world, but it sure is cool.
We've also been making progress on the dynamics team (suspension system, roll cage, etc.) through training sessions at the machine shop as well as the continual waterjetting of important pieces.
Contrary to Pokémon logic, water is super effective against steel (or aluminum in this case). Can we also appreciate how artsy the water jet looks right now. It's the shadows that really set the mood.
 Last week's non-mechanical subteam updates were definitely subpar. While I can't guarantee the issue has been completely remedied this week, I can say that they're definitely much better.

Electrical Team

We've been spending a lot of time coding/debugging this week. It's not the most interesting thing in the world to report on, but at least we've got more relevant pictures than mechanical team.
Meet the battery box output panel. Beyond being a really important part of the battery box, it just looks amazing. The craftsmanship and artistic contrast of the modern 3D printed panel and connectors on the rustic wood are of a quality seen on very successful Kickstarter projects.


Looks can be deceiving as this little guy has the biggest job of preventing explosions. A stunning image of the output panel can only be followed by an equally magnificent photo of the battery monitoring system board.

When things heat up who you gonna call? Definitely not the Ghostbusters. It's a bird, it's a plane, it's... the fans driver board! Serving the same duty as an ice cream truck - to keep things cool on a hot summer's day.

Solar Array Team

The bad news is that last week, we didn't have any pictures. The good news is that that's been fixed. We've been working towards improving our skills for our most important duty - the creation of solar array modules. This process begins with encapsulation. Basically, we laminate groups of connected solar cells into order to make the cells stronger, more flexible, and easier to handle.

And while we never play around in the clean room, sometimes we mess up giant rolls of plastic and have to wrap our own teammates in it in order to resolve the issue by re-rolling the plastic around its holder.
We've also already started preparing for Quad Day 2016 by creating this large solar cell display. Given its size and general look, it'll definitely be hard to miss, so come check it out in the fall!
This large array serves a dual purpose as a Quad Day advertisement as well as a testing module. The electrical team took it out to the field and collected rather favorable results. People for scale as always.
And while housekeeping and organization isn't everyone's favorite task, it's a lot more cheerful to do when you're doing it because you need to find a place to put donations from sponsors.

If you've made it this far, then congratulations! We here at Illini Solar Car are thankful for your time and hope you spread the word of our progress and continue to follow along with us every week, right here on this blog.

Welcome to Summer

School's (been) out and the team's (been) hard at work, attempting to put together the first Illini Solar Car of the 21st century. Much has happened since our last blog update which, admittedly, was too long ago. But in the interest of updating our wonderful fans and sponsors on our progress, as well as documentation for the team, the current forecast for this blog and accompanying email list is one that contains more frequent updates.

Currently, this blog is scheduled to be updated every week, with a general update email being sent out once a month. Only time will tell if we stay true to this schedule. Things are optimistic however, because we've all been made aware of the importance of documenting our work not only for the public, but for the future of Illini Solar Car.
Without further ado, here are the updates (with pictures) for the first month of summer:

Mechanical Team

The overarching goal for this summer is to construct as much of the car's body/shell as possible given that it is the most labor intensive process. The task is so rigorous that mechanical's actually had to draft members from the electrical and solar array teams in order to get the job done.

The summer began with the completion of our wood platforms (1 for the top shell, 2 for the bottom shell, and 5 for the wheels and canopy). Simple in design yet crucial to being able to move literal tons of foam, these structures - effectively "bed frames for giants" - proved to be more challenging to build than anticipated.

See the resemblance to a bed frame for giants? People are included for scale, but for those who like numbers, the largest of the platforms is approximately 8' x 16'. Also, most of us used nail guns for the first time. They're scary at first, but super fun.
Though heavy to move around and lift, the biggest issue was not with building the actual frame, but with attaching the wheels. After overcoming the initial problem with finding adequate wheels to support the weight of the platform and the foam, installing them became the next dilemma. Our options were to attach the wheels with the platform on the ground, requiring us to flip such a heavy and large structure, or to screw them from underneath the wood, an uncomfortable prospect. We chose the latter and finished the platforms by screwing in wood sheets on top across the whole area.

While operating a nail gun upside down isn't dangerous, there are more ideal ways to use it. But at the very least, we covered the most important aspect of construction - safety. Always wear the right kind of safety glasses for the job.
We then proceeded to glue dozens of foam sheets (with densities varying from 10-20 lbs/ft^3) together to form large blocks the size and shape of each appropriate part. The blocks themselves were also glued to the platforms so that the foam could resist the force from the CNC and not move.

A picture in portrait? How blasphemous! Those with a wild imagination might anthropomorphize the stacks of foam, giving them life like the toys in Toy Story, and realize that while they sit cozily on the platforms now, they're really just waiting to have themselves deformed and chipped away by rapidly spinning metal. How's that for some unnecessary imagery?

With no clamps commercially available in the size we needed to ensure that the foam sheets stuck together and to attempt to flatten out any curved surfaces - which there were unfortunately a lot of - we had to resort to making our own. Combining long planks of wood with holes drilled into them with threaded rods and hex nuts, we were able to create multiple easy(ish) to use presses.

Here we see iron rod clamps working with the aforementioned threaded rod press to secure large sheets of foam to one half of the bottom shell. In cases like these, the threaded rods are really only moral support as the iron rods do most of the clamping. We also prefer working in the shade because, as engineers, how often do we really see the sun anyway?
For longer than anyone would ever want to do, life was an endless cycle of measuring, cutting, gluing, stacking, clamping, and waiting for the glue to become solid. We were spared the fate of becoming mindless zombies because of the heat, snacks and drinks to fight the heat, and most importantly, a sense of camaraderie that got us through the tough times. Then magically, at approximately 12:40am on June 16th, 2016, we found ourselves starting to clean up, for we had finally finished. 9 hours later, with the help of some amazing machinery, the foam was loaded and on its way to APW near St. Louis to be CNC'd to our specifications.

While forklifts like this are amazing feats of engineering to be marveled at, something arguably cooler is the fact that one of the Campus Facilities & Services employees helping operate the beastly machine has collected and restored 27 Harley Davidson motorcycles over the last 30 years in addition to other vehicles.

There are few things more satisfying than watching months of planning and weeks of physical labor coming into fruition. People and houses exist for scale, but for the numbers people, the truck bed is about 50' long.
If you've stuck around this far, then Illini Solar Car would like to thank you for your viewership, and we hope you continue to check back occasionally to see the latest on our team's efforts.
It is also at this point that you might realize that this writer is part of the mechanical team given the amount of content in the next sections (subsequent updates will include more thorough descriptions from other teams if available).

Electrical Team

We’ve been assembling our high-voltage test bench, which will eventually run the entire electrical testing platform of the car, which will validate our circuit boards, motors and solar panels, and power distribution at the systems level.

I've been assured that this doesn't look as scary as it might appear to those of us without much electrical background.

Solar Array Team

Current efforts are focused towards finalizing the array layout on the top shell of the car, developing a better tool to align the solar cells in the required formation, and soldering together enough cells to test and characterize in order to more accurately assess power outputs.