The Start Line is the Finish Line: The Journey of the 2018 Coppell Solar Car Team

Craig Lawrence About Us, Announcements, Solar Car

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” – John Bingham

 

Several months ago, we wrote about the Coppell High School Solar Car team, which Treverity sponsored this year in their quest to complete the Solar Car Challenge – a seven day grueling road race from Texas to California, covering over 1300 miles. All powered by the sun. And, all in vehicles built and driven by high school students.

The race is coming up next week (July 17-23), and while many high school kids have been at camp, watching TV, and sleeping in this summer, the Coppell Solar team has been busy. Very busy. What started out as a dream and a basket of parts in January, has turned into a finely tuned team of young adults and an absolutely amazing vehicle.

The effort has been herculean. Since making the decision to compete in January, over 25 students (with the help of three teachers and numerous mentors) have logged over 5000 hours of effort and 800 miles of road testing. They’ve mastered the tools of modern engineering, including CAD, Labview, and Slack. They’ve built a complex telemetry system to collect data and monitor vehicle performance in real-time. They’ve built not one, but two vehicles – the car itself, and a portable solar charging station. They’ve developed a math-based race strategy designed to maximize battery performance and range. And along the way, they’ve had shattered solar panels, failed components, crashes, and various other setbacks. They’ve burned through over 50 batteries, many tires, hundreds of pounds of steel tubing, thousands of zip ties. And, of course, countless snacks and caffeinated beverages on their path to the starting line.

 

And, if that weren’t enough – they had to figure out how to pay for all of this. Fundraising was a major effort, and the team came through, raising over $75,000 in cash and in-kind donations, from great organizations like the Dallas Cowboys, SunPower (who donated the high efficiency solar panels shown above), and Treverity, to name just a few. 17 corporate sponsors and over 50 individuals helped make all of this possible.

Anyone who has ever shipped a product knows the feeling of excitement, fear, stress, and anticipation as that shipment date gets closer. For the Coppell Solar team, they are experiencing all that and more – many for the first time in their lives.

And if the race pressure wasn’t high enough, the team still needs to make it through “Scrutineering” (a term I just learned) – a brutal evaluation and test of your vehicle and your team to ensure that you have complied with all of the rules in the 30+ page race rule book and 46+ page, 200-part Scrutineering checklist. This review covers every detail of the vehicle,  from the construction of the safety harnesses to the tightness of the electrical connections to the vehicle turning radius. In this process, the team is asked to “show their work” – defend the design decisions they made, demonstrate that they built the vehicle themselves, that it complies with all of the race rules, and that they are prepared for the brutal race ahead. Many teams to do not pass Scrutineering and never make it to the starting line, which is devastating. In my experience, most product companies don’t apply this level of rigour to their development process. They should.

 

Watching the team go through this process has reminded me of a quote from John “The Penguin” Bingham – a back-of-the-pack runner and writer for Runners World Magazine, who inspired a new generation of runners. John famously stated after a particularly tough race “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” Coppell Solar certainly has the courage to start. And, while victory in the race is certainly not guaranteed, we know that the team has already won. They’ve won the respect of their peers, their teachers, and their community. And they’ve won valuable skills and life lessons in design, engineering, fabrication, fundraising, marketing, teamwork, hardwork, and perseverance that will serve them well in life. We wish them good luck over the next week, but we know they don’t need it – they are prepared.

If you are interested in helping out the team this year, and in future years, I highly encourage it. I promise you will get back more than you put in. Contact me for more info @ craig.lawrence@treverity.com or you can donate to the team directly @ http://www.coppellsolar.org/donate.html.

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