Two weekend triumphs: airgap and regen

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Matthew Nubbe, head of the electrical team, and freshman Alex Jablonski examine the airgap system

NUSolar made some awesome progress during the first week of spring quarter. Despite the cold and rainy “spring” weather, the electrical team had two exciting victories this weekend: Both the airgap and regenerative braking systems are working smoothly.

Initial testing resulted in some mysterious smoke from the airgap circuit board. But after replacing the offending chip, the system (a distinguishing design feature of our car) ran successfully. Now the driver of SC5 can switch between three different ranges of rpms, which means the motor will run at maximum efficiency whether we’re turning, accelerating or towing a giant bobblehead uphill.

Airgap circuitry adjusts how close the magnets are to the coils within the motor. Each airgap setting is like a gear in your average gas-guzzling car. For a given speed, each setting has it’s own torque and efficiency curves, so switching between settings lets us operate more efficiently or gives us more torque to climb that big hill.

For the first time, NUSolar’s car will have a regenerative braking system. Regen saves us precious energy and time during braking and turning by storing the kinetic energy from the spinning wheel and using it to recharge the battery. In conventional braking systems, that energy would be wasted as heat.

Basically, SC5 has emerged from the weekend stronger and more efficient, which is probably not the case for most of our shivering team members. Tomorrow’s high temperature in Evanston: 48 degrees. In Anchorage, Alaska: 50 degrees.

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