One look at the 238 solar panels that perfectly pattern the sleek race car is enough to stop people in their tracks.
“It’s like Back to the Future,” said one passer-by, outside an alternative fuel vehicle expo in Hollywood on Friday. “First time I’ve seen anything like this.”
But the South Plantation High students, who were showing off their latest solar-powered race car, are used to it. They say most people think it’s a boat. Or a spaceship.
“Does it fly?” some ask.
“No, it drives,” junior Matthew Medosky often clarifies. He’s captain of the engineering club that was the first in the state to race a solar-powered race car back in 2007. Students drove the car from Texas to New York for the Dell-Winston School Solar Car Challenge.
This year, students are hoping to return to a national solar car competition in Texas with a third version of their solar-powered vehicle. Last year, they failed to raise enough money for the trip.
Now they’re going full-throttle with fundraising, redesigning the car’s cockpit and streamlining other parts of the vehicle.
“Every little detail counts,” says junior Andreas Sarris, who spends hours searching for replacement parts for the car. He says even the distance between each solar panel can make a difference in a race.
The 500-pound, one-seater car was first built in 2010 by students in the engineering program and after-school club.
The way it works: sunlight streams into black solar panels that convert photons into usable electricity. That shoots its way to a controller that charges the car’s batteries and eventually powers the motor.
Once powered, it makes a fast beeping sound.
At 18 feet long and six feet wide, the car reaches 58 mph.
“It’s like driving a Cadillac,” said sophomore Robert Faust.
But you can’t listen to the radio and there’s no air conditioning.
“When you have something that weighs as much as two football players and you’re trying to move it down the street using the minimal amount of power, every pound counts,” said Matthew.
The downside? Overcast skies.
“When the sun is 100 percent, we can go forever,” said teacher John Martin.
Students have until the end of the school year to raise another $20,000 for the competition this summer. But they say they’re already pushing the boundaries of solar energy.
“Do you see any other solar cars here? Nope, we’re the only solar car so we’re leading the pack on becoming an alternative energy on mobility,” Matthew said with a smile.
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