Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stanford Solar Car on Display Before Big Race

A team of Stanford students is racing to finish what could be the next new thing in automotive technology. Or just the fastest solar panels on wheels.

If the school's $500,000 car is made of the right stuff, it will cross the finish line ahead of 30 teams at this fall's grueling World Solar Challenge, the international Super Bowl of solar car racing across a bright, flat, empty and hot Australian outback.

"Our goal is to make the most aerodynamic solar car the world has ever seen," said mechanical engineering student Ian Girard, 22, taking a late-night rest from last-minute tests, tweaks and repairs.

"It's not science fiction. It's not stuck in a lab," he said. "It's real. It's here. There's no gas anywhere in the car. And it's on the highway, next to you."

Only a year ago, "Xenith" was a mere collection of CAD files and dreams.

Now it resembles a sleek spacecraft. Street-legal and already road-tested on Bay Area and Central Valley freeways, its solar cruise speed is 50 to 60 mph, propelled by a 1300-watt solar array and 150-volt battery pack.

On Thursday, Xenith will be on display at its official "coming out" party -- proving that a vehicle can be both green and mean.

Next, it gets carefully boxed up and shipped across the Pacific, to arrive in time for the Oct. 16-23 competition.

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