Monday, July 28, 2014

Solar Boat Team Makes ‘Splash’ at Intercollegiate Competition

The Northeastern Solar Boat club finished in second place and won most improved team at the 2014 Solar Splash competition earlier this month in Ohio. Contributed photo
Mem­bers of Northeastern’s Solar Boat club had planned to rebuild in 2014, fore­going a chance to win now in exchange for future success.

Turns out, the future is now: Ear­lier this month, North­eastern fin­ished second overall and was named the most improved team at the annual Solar Splash com­pe­ti­tion in Ohio. In 2013, the North­eastern team fin­ished 10th.

“This year was sup­posed to be a tran­si­tion year for us,” said first-​​year club pres­i­dent Christo­pher Hickey, E’16, whose team also won a sprint race, fin­ished second in the slalom, and placed third in visual dis­play. “It was great we ended up being so suc­cessful because it showed that our pre­de­ces­sors left the club in good shape.”

Solar Splash began in 1994 and is billed by orga­nizers as the world cham­pi­onship of inter­col­le­giate solar/​electric boating.

Northeastern’s student-​​run engi­neering club designs, builds, and races a 19-​​foot long solar-​​powered boat, giving mem­bers a chance to apply skills they have learned on co-​​op and in the classroom.

This year, the team worked to build a boat that could with­stand each and every event at Solar Splash, which wasn’t the case at last year’s com­pe­ti­tion. “Our goal was to not have parts of the boat break on us,” said club alumnus Scott Kil­coyne, E’14, who worked with the team at the com­pe­ti­tion. “I’d say we def­i­nitely succeeded.”

One redesign required the club mem­bers to make the boat’s five solar panels, rather than buying them. This marked the second time in the club’s five-​​year his­tory that the stu­dents built the solar panels them­selves. Not only are the custom panels lighter and more robust, Kil­coyne explained, but they also boost performance.

“The com­pe­ti­tion rules state that teams are allowed 528 watts of energy for home-​​built panels and 480 watts of energy for com­mer­cially built panels,” he explained. “They’re trying to encourage teams to build their own.”

Hickey noted that this year’s results were even more impres­sive because of the club’s lim­ited prac­tice time. Since the Charles River was frozen into May, the team mem­bers could do little to test their single-​​person boat, which can reach a speed of 25 miles per hour.

“We only had about a month to test the boat with all of our updates,” Hickey said, which included new pon­toons to keep the boat stable and above water.

The club’s 10 active mem­bers work year-​​round, tin­kering and fine-​​tuning, but they some­times solicit out­side help. In the past they have uti­lized other engi­neering stu­dents’ cap­stone projects for design ideas; for example, the club’s first iter­a­tion of the hand­made solar panels derived from a cap­stone project.

“It’s good to get a fresh bit of knowl­edge and exper­tise that the club might not have,” Kil­coyne said.


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