June 21, 2008

We Shall Endure!

A few days deep into the competition, and it's time for the main event. The endurance competition nets teams up to 450 points, and represents a true test of efficiency and design. For 2 hours, teams attempt to complete as many laps around the course as possible, using solar energy to help propel them towards their goal. There were two heats over the course of today, which added up to a total of 4 hours in the baking Arkansas sun. Luckily for you, you get to enjoy it from the comfort of your own home.
The Internet is a wonderful thing.

Day 4 - Saturday, June 21st

Setup - 8:00 am

Once again, the team unearthed Nessie from beneath its protective blue tarp and took it out in the sun to shed its slippery dew-drop skin in the fresh morning air. If that wasn't enough imagery:
Luckily, no random trailer problem existed today, so we were able to assemble and move out to the dock with very little consequence.

Into the Heat - 9:30 am

The first Endurance heat saw our veteran Will Wedler at the helm, and we quickly maneuvered into position besides our fellow competitors.
Our progress through the first endurance heat can be best described as "slow, but steady". We maintained a pretty steady pace of ~3 mph, which is basically on par with last year's performance. While we were hoping to do better, we believe that problems with our lower drive train (propeller and lower unit) may have been the cause of our lower speed cap. We were drawing a consistent 30-40 amps during the race, which was achieved through the help of our new current sensors. Unfortunately, we were only getting around 5-6 amps from our panels (around 350 watts at operating voltage), instead of around the 8-9 that the panels are listed as providing. We believe that it was the combination of these imposed limits that lead to our decreased performance in the event. That being said, there are many lessons to be taken away from this, both from our boat's experience and from the experiences of other teams. Future iterations of our endurance configuration will draw from these experiences.

Our boat sat well in the water, as our trusty Wedler endured the mid-morning heat for two hours. In true Will style, he even took some time our to verify our current-sensor with the multi-meter we had stowed away.

The University of Northern Iowa raced with their "Panther" boat, which was very well constructed. Due to the sunk cockpit, you could almost forget that there was a driver for that thing.

The University of Arkansas competed with two boats, each with a substantially different design. One featured a similar hull to our own, and the other was an interesting catamaran design.

The University of Florida had a small little craft that sort of resembles our team's original Carnivore. Unfortunately for them they did not adopt the "slow, but steady" philosophy, and had to slow to a veritable crawl towards the end when their batteries started to give out.

The University of South Carolina also had an interesting boat, which placed their driver in a rather awkward position on the front. Sometimes the ingenuity of people surprises me.

Middle Tennessee created a catamaran design with a hull that could actually be flipped over. They caused quite a ruckus for almost violating the rules, and were given a one year waiver until the judges can append the rulebook.

Cederville returned this year with the one of their well-constructed wooden hulls from previous years, and once again shot around the course so quickly I could swear they were red-shifting.

The Washington State boat did very well, both on the water and in the crowds. The former due to good engineering. The latter due to their driver, Kevin, who was a consistent crowd pleaser with funny gestures and noises. It was nice to be part of such a relaxing atmosphere.

ETS returned this year with their ridiculously nice looking catamaran, called the "Photon". I have never seen such meticously detailing in my entire life. Of course, when your budget for your boat is $70,000, there better be something special about it. I can only imagine what CMSS could do with that amount of money (cough....sponsors.......cough).

Speaking of awesome, the "Muavenet", created by the students from ITU, has to be one of the greatest pieces of engineering I have seen from undergraduate students. There team did a fantastic job, and had to have their boat shipped here all the way from Turkey!

The Mighty Grill, and a Little Introspection - 12:00 pm

Normally lunch is not blog-worthy. However, there were two things that I thought noteworthy enough for a brief mention.

First of all, there was this amazing looking grill:
.... it was awesome.

Second, there was this fun little activity for the local kids in the neighborhood where each of them got to build their own small solar boat using a kit, and they raced them around the loading area while the teams had lunch.
I bring this up because it reminds me of one of the reasons I do so much for Solar Splash. At the end of the day, once all of our tools are packed away I am often so embroiled by the immediate competition that I lose sight of what this whole competition is really about.

Sure, we do research and testing and technical documentation, but at the end of the day this competition isn't really about the technical advances we come up with. This competition is about getting students interested in Science and Engineering and allowing them the opportunity to explore those interests in the context of sustainable engineering. By showing students that they can use their talents to not only do fun and challenging work, but to also provide solutions which will better the environment, you open up channels for the type of innovation that will drive the future of energy and sustainability.

While the little event that was held may have no impact what-so-ever, there exists a part in me that truly believes that competitions like this have the ability to make a difference. If introducing students to solar energy applications causes at least 1 or 2 of those people to seriously pursue a career in sustainable engineering, I will have accomplished more to help the environment than I could ever do via my 4 years in college.

Idealistic, I know, but for what it's worth it at least made me momentarily happy and gave me the motivation to continue my endless struggle with our endurance configuration. After all, we're back on the water at 1:30 for the second heat!

Captain Riddhi Takes the Heat - 1:30 pm

Back in the water now, and with a new skipper too! Riddhi Roy, our resident sophomore chemistry major took to the open waters as our driver for the second endurance race. After lining up with the rest of the pack, they were off, and Riddhi was well on her way.
Our performance this heat basically mirrored that of our previous heat, so no new surprises there. Overall we garnered around 20 laps total, between our two heats. Our drivers were ok and nothing broke, which for 4 hours of racing was impressive. Our final heat was cut 5 mins short on account of a depleted auxiliary battery, but our backup will serve us fine for tomorrow.
Endurance is a very fun event, and it was great to see so many engineering visions come to life.

We got our "Official" picture taken after the endurance race, although no official picture is complete without all of our other members who spent so much of their time working on this project. This picture is not complete without you.

Overall, the Endurance was less than we had hoped for, on account of our panels and lower drive train. We still gained valuable information, and a lot of our newer systems were performing well for themselves. With the lessons we have learned here, we should be able to carry forward an excellent set of goals and directions for development next year.

On the plus side, tomorrow is the next round of Sprint heats, and we aren't going to give this one up, that's for sure.
No battery terminal is going to stop us this time.

We're working as hard as we can to get you updates, so hang in there and keep an eye out for the final verdict over the next day or two.

Till next time,
- Mark

1 comment:

Solar Panels said...

Thank you for sharing that experience and your assessment of how it went. I believe you have made a great start and I'll be looking forward to your next update.
Kudos to you guys! :)