Is that a flying saucer? No, it’s a solar car built by UC Berkeley students

UC Berkeley’s solar car club CalSol will depart in a week for the midwest, solar vehicle in tow, to compete in the American Solar Challenge — the team’s first return to competition after more than a year sidelined by the pandemic.

The team would forgive you for gawking at Zephyr, the solar car in question, a two-and-a-half foot tall creation that resembles a cross between a Tesla and something out of Star Wars.

“It looks like a flying saucer because we’re optimizing for efficiency,” said Alexander Zerkle, a recent Berkeley graduate who will be handling the team’s logistics during the competition. “It’s a handmade, unique, one-of-a-kind car.”

RICHMOND, CA – JULY 15: Driver Erik Francis, center, pilots Zephyr, a UC Berkeley solar powered car, on a demonstration run for this newspaper at the school’s Richmond Field Station in Richmond, Calif., on Thursday, July 15, 2021. The UC Berkeley Solar Vehicle Team, a club that designs, builds, and races road-legal solar powered cars will compete in their first event since Covid began the American Solar Challenge/Formula Sun Grand Prix at the end of the month. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group) 

The team will first compete in a three-day track event in Kansas for the Formula Sun Grand Prix component of the challenge. Then they’ll travel to Independence, Mo. to compete in the road event, a 1,000 mile, five-day course ending in Las Vegas, N.M., with the option for teams to complete additional miles to show off the capabilities of their cars.

To gear up, the students are putting in the hours at the Richmond Field Station, a UC Berkeley-owned 170-acre parcel that’s home to various student clubs and research. The University closed the station for the duration of the pandemic, with student access being restored only a month ago — a challenge for the hands-on team.

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Michael Jia, a rising sophomore who saw the station for the first time last month, said there’s a world of difference between looking at a car on design software and seeing it in person. “The images don’t do it justice,” he said.

RICHMOND, CA – JULY 15: Michael Jia adds a locking canopy latch to Zephyr, a UC Berkeley solar powered car, while making preparations for an upcoming competition at CalSol’s garage and workshop in Richmond, Calif., on Thursday, July 15, 2021. The UC Berkeley Solar Vehicle Team, a club that designs, builds, and races road-legal solar powered cars will compete in their first event since Covid began the American Solar Challenge/Formula Sun Grand Prix at the end of the month. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group) 

Erik Francis, a rising senior on the team who accompanied Jia and other pandemic recruits to the field station, still remembers the feeling of testing the car to see how it held up after a year and a half of rest.

“It started right up,” he said with pride, while the other two students imitated the cheering and celebration that took place afterward.

Though the club has always prioritized their members gaining engineering skills over podium finishes, the socially-distanced …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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