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Mii Cheil Tan – Strategy Team Lead

Where is my flying car?

A hundred years ago, futurists back then envisioned that life in the 21st century would be a breeze. Here is a list of things people expected to have today in the transportation sector:

  • Flying Cars
  • Railroad ships
  • Mobile pavements
  • Aquatic cars
  • Locomotive buildings

It seems that out of the 5 listed, we have achieved roughly 3 (?) of them..

1.    Mobile pavements as the modern day escalators and travelators. Check.
2.    Aquatic cars as submarines. Check.
3.    Locomotive buildings as RVs maybe..?

That isn’t too bad, we are past the halfway point (assuming the hand waving point about 3 is accepted). However, you might be wondering “What does this have to do with solar cars..?”. Well the truth is, our solar car is secretly a flying car. No, I’m just kidding.

The point that I’m trying to make is this:

People back then didn’t predict that solar cars would exist within the next 100 years. The invention of a (working) flying car seemed more likely than a sustainable electric vehicle. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Here we are, a group of university students dedicated to the project that has produced not just a solar car, but several solar cars. Seven to be precise. Of course, this group alone didn’t design and build all seven cars, but the spirit of discovery and innovation has prevailed since the project was established in 1997. That’s 17 years now! Equivalent in age to a brooding adolescent.

The community of solar car racing is a significant factor to the project’s evolution over time as the involvement with other groups dedicated to sustainable design on a global scale is an invaluable exposure that (in my opinion) can’t be achieved to the same extend as the usual classroom interactions can offer. The stark contrast between the project and school isn’t in terms of education, it’s the ability to change the course of history, one solar car at a time. The next time someone asks for a flying car, tell them that you found something even better.

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Fabrication Team Lead – Jennifer U

I was twelve years old when I decided on a career in mechanical engineering.  I could give a long list of reasons, but there was one that stood out among the others. My one crazy dream: I wanted to save the planet.

I am not alone on the team in aspiring to a career in sustainable engineering, and I am certainly not alone in valuing sustainability in technology.  Even outside of this project, we are a community of young engineers with a dedicated interest in improving environmental technologies.  Blue Sky Solar Racing provides an invaluable platform to collaborate with like-minded individuals, improve our technical skills beyond anything we would learn in class, and, in the end, have something amazing to show for it.

Of U of T engineers, I believe that we are among the best educated on the intricacies of sustainable technology – from array power maximization, to mechanical and electrical efficiency, to fabrication load reduction, to aerodynamic loss reduction, to strategic use of the power at hand.  The car that we create is a display of the maximum abilities not only of current technologies, but of engineering students who dedicate themselves to a singular purpose.

As a fabrication team lead, my job does not involve creating innovative technologies as much as it involves discovering them – and then finding innovative ways to use them to our team’s best advantage.  My job involves asking as much as it does answering; and it involves learning from the very basics every step of the way. I joined the team as a wide-eyed, purple-dyed, first-year engineering student like any other.  Yet here I am, two years later, helping to advance a team seven cycles and seven cars old.  The team’s world-class development is our own personal development – and we are all just students.

For me, the personal development that I can see in myself and the other team members is as important as our final product. When I hear team members discussing the project with the general public, I am always amazed at their extent of the team member’s knowledge, and the captivation of the audience members.  This is what I hope to draw attention to: our growing team of technologically and environmentally aware young engineers, the knowledge that we can share with the community, and the amazing work that can come from our dedicated hands.

Our car may be a fantastic display of student engineering, but we are the main innovation. We are the technology that will go forth and change the world.

And the twelve-year-old dreamer in me would be amazed at what we have accomplished.

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Aerodynamics Team Lead – Neil Wu

If you stumble into the solar car shop at midnight, the chances are you’ll find me sitting in front of the computer, probably tired and a little bit frustrated. As Aerodynamics Team Lead, I’m responsible for designing the aerobody – the external shell – of the next solar car. Not only do I have to minimize aerodynamic drag and ensure that it is easy to manufacture, I have to make sure that array and mechanical teams are satisfied with my designs. Because the requests of these teams are typically detrimental to aerodynamic performance, there are a lot of difficult compromises to be made.

Despite the importance of aerodynamics in design, we’ve always had a very minimal aerodynamics team compared to most of the other top teams. Most teams have a couple of people solely responsible for CAD design, and a few for running simulations, but at Blue Sky, all that responsibility falls onto my shoulders. And unlike many other teams, we’re all full time undergraduate students, which means I have little room for things like sleep. Throughout the summer, my friends travel Europe and go skydiving while I sit in the solar car shop meshing and running CFD. It’s the nature of aerodynamics design that all the other subsystems are dependent on having an existing design, so there’s a lot of delegation and discussion between myself, mechanical and array teams.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been on the team for two years already. I’ve gone from a frosh that hardly knew anything to a team lead that knows enough to design and build a car. However, I don’t think the technical knowledge is the biggest thing I’ve gained here at Blue Sky. Sure, being able to design a car in CAD and run simulations is pretty cool, and being able to work with others in a huge multidisciplinary project is not something that is taught in schools, but the biggest thing I’ve gained is the understanding that, as engineers, how much room for improvement there is in the things we use day-to-day, and how much difference each of us can make. If you asked me two years ago, if a group of undergraduate students can make a solar powered car to race across the continent of Australia, I would’ve said you’re crazy. It is crazy, but for a different reason. It’s crazy because we can make cars that are 10x more fuel efficient, that run on the power of a toaster. But what if the same is true for everything else we use day-to-day? Efficiency is the reason solar cars are capable of sustaining highway speeds, and if we, as engineers, applied the same philosophy to everything else, perhaps we can have a greener future.

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Sponsorship Team Lead – Nicole D’lyma

When I first joined the team, I knew nothing about solar cars. But I’ve always loved crazy ideas and I marvel at innovative products and Blue Sky Solar Racing offers both. Little did I know I would come to learn much more than I ever anticipated. Blue Sky has given me an appreciation for everything in between the idea and the final product. Before we get to the finish line, there are certain realities we must face, and both technical and non-technical challenges we must overcome. It is this intense journey we endure that helps us grow as engineers, and as individuals.

Even more, I get to experience it all with an incredibly intelligent, dedicated team. Every day I learn something new from them; their passion and commitment is infectious and they inspire me to work harder. And in my role as the Sponsorship Team Lead managing relations with our sponsors and supporters, I realize we are connected to an amazing community from around the world who all believe in a sustainable future. It is a passion that unites us all.

For me, this project has been a tremendous learning experience. And the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know (as Albert Einstein once said). It is a vicious but thoroughly rewarding cycle. The more I learn about the project, the more I realize how complex it truly is but rather than intimidate me, it only fuels my motivation to learn more and work harder so that we may reach the finish line. You see, Blue Sky has given me a sincere belief that nothing is impossible and this belief can lead to a world of wonder.

In conclusion, the Blue Sky Solar Racing project has helped me grow as an engineer and helped me discover a passion for sustainability. It has given me the opportunity to work with incredibly talented people. And lastly, it has helped me realize that the only way to achieve the impossible is to believe it is possible. All that in less than a year as a team lead! I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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Array Team Lead – Kevin Rupasinghe

I’ve decided to share a short story that I found to be a catalyst for reflection and appreciation:

A few months ago, it was decided that the solar car team leads would be going on a weekend canoe trip to Algonquin for “team-building.” We finally embarked on the trip during the August long weekend with about twelve members of the team, including most of the team leads and our managing director, Zhe Gong.

After settling down in a campsite on the first day, Zhe and I set off across the lake to gather some firewood from deep in the forest. On our way back, we were accosted by a man and his family whose campsite was near the lake. His young daughter took an interest in us, and as Zhe and I toiled away, her shrill voice floated across the lake:

“What’s five times seven?!” his daughter demanded to know. The two of us burst out laughing, and I replied, “Thirty-five!” as Zhe simultaneously said, “I don’t know!” The girl was thrilled, and demanded more.

“What’s thirty-five times two?”

“Seventy,” we called back.

“What’s seventy times five?” “Three hundred and fifty.”

“Twenty-five times twenty-five?” “Six hundred twenty-five.”

This poor little girl’s mind was being blown. She and her family watched two young men paddling with a canoe full of logs, phones or calculators nowhere to be seen, correctly answering what she imagined to be ridiculously difficult math questions. She was done playing games; it was time to end this once and for all:

“What is five million times five?!” she screamed. Amused, we replied, “Twenty-five million.”

Now it was time for the father to take a stab at stumping us. After a few questions, it was finally our reply of, “Five thousand one hundred and eighty four!” that was met with a “Jesus! How are they doing that?!” and we knew that to that family, we seemed to be wizards.

This experience made me realize that something I consider mundane (the ability to do mental math) was viewed as wizardry. I stepped back further and considered that my “wizardry” came from what we achieve here at Blue Sky. Arthur C. Clarke famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” At Blue Sky, we are constantly pushing to develop technology and techniques for making the future a reality today, and that is an act of magic.

The entire ordeal was met with a few chuckles, but further consideration really made me understand the magnitude of our work. We were given the title of “wizards” for the wrong reasons, but it has certainly resonated with me as a hard truth. Time and time again, through all the self-doubt and crippling defeats, working with Blue Sky requires me to roll up my sleeves and conjure up solutions. Blue Sky has empowered me to build a better and brighter future by repeatedly telling me, “You are a wizard, Kevin.” And much like Hogwarts was for Harry, I can safely say that Blue Sky is my home.

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Mechanical Team Lead – Maya Zhang

I joined the team at the beginning of the B7 cycle, when I was in second year. My intention was to gain hands-on design skills, and Blue Sky stood out as the largest design team on campus with a focus on educating its members as well as competing. Knowing nothing about cars or design, I jumped in headfirst and spent the next year and a half working on various small mechanical projects – steering, hub optimization, and a whole lot of FEA.

I didn’t go to the race in 2013 due to being on PEY, and only started as a team lead in February. My experience so far can be most strongly related to going down the proverbial rabbit hole. We always tell new members that “the more time and effort you put in, the more you’ll get out of this,” and this has definitely held true for me. It’s been a steep learning curve the whole way through, and there’s still times when I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.

As a mechanical team lead, I’m responsible for the overall design and testing of the systems that make the car safe and driveable. These components range from rims to suspension to chassis and everything in between. It really is an endless array (not to be confused with the not-endless solar array) of challenges. On the technical side, my co-lead, Kshitij, and I work to incorporate “Design for X” elements of manufacturability, weight and cost along with physical requirements and limitations. Each design decision must also be considered in the broader scope of integration and trade-offs with other systems. On the organizational side, we manage our group of mechanical team members in their various contributions.

For me, the best part of the Blue Sky project is twofold (similar to Lays chips, I couldn’t have just one). Firstly, it gives me the opportunity to learn by doing and teaching, without the safety net of taking a course on that exact subject beforehand. It’s helping me develop the kind of problem solving skills that come from drawing information from multiple sources, figuring things out through trial and error, and iterating over and over. Secondly and equally as important, it gives me the chance to work closely with talented, passionate individuals who share a common cause. After all the hours and effort that everyone puts in, to step back at the end and say “I made that!” is the best feeling in the world.