Thinking Tech

Solar-powered vehicle sets new speed record

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A group of college students can now boast that they've built the world's fastest solar vehicle.

A group of college students can now boast that they've built the world's fastest solar vehicle.

On Jan. 7, the Sunswift IVy race car barreled down a racetrack in Nowra, Australia and set a new speed record for solar-powered vehicles. The car, built by engineering students at the University of New South Wales, clocked in at a top speed of 54.6 mph, more than six mph faster than the previous record that stood for nearly 23 years.

The Sunswift IVy is fueled by a patchwork of 400 silicon solar cells that soak up energy from the sun's rays, which is then used to charge a 55-pound onboard battery. But to qualify for a shot at history, the battery was removed to allow it to run entirely on solar power. And while going batteryless made the car lighter, energy efficiency had to be taken up a notch.

Barton Mawer, a professional race car driver, told Wired.com that maneuvering and keeping the vehicle balanced was also bit of a challenge.

“The car is designed to travel at these speeds, so the aerodynamics meant the car was steady,” Mawer said. “However since we were going for solar only, we removed the battery that normally sits in the front which meant the car wanted to move a little from side to side. But I felt safe the whole time and with improvements feel confident the car could handle going faster!”

Obviously when a vehicle goes that bare bones, it's going to look and feel like you're steering a slab of solar panels on shopping cart wheels. And even at that speed, the Sunswift IVy would probably have a hard time keeping up with traffic on some freeways here in the U.S.

But what makes this quite a feat is the fact that the racing team pulled it off using a mere 1050 watts of electricity. A toaster alone uses about 1200 watts.

The racing team doesn't plan to sit on the accomplishment though. They're working on tweaks to get the car to go even faster as they prepare for the World Solar Challenge, a premier solar car race to be held in October.

The Sunswift IVy is entering the race as the world's top ranked silicon solar car.

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure