Solar powered vehicles combine technology from a wide range of industries to create a vehicle which can run through the power of the sun. Although they are not yet functional as a daily transportation device, there is some hope that they might be used this way in the future. Solar powered vehicles are most often used in racing, especially by universities who use the project as a way of teaching engineering skills to their students.
Solar powered vehicles are designed to be lightweight. They usually have mesh seats which do not weigh a lot. Most cars are only designed for one passenger, although a few have a second seat. Since most cars are designed for racing, they typically are equipped with a radio system to communicate with their crews. They also usually have typical brakes and accelerators. Some even have cruise control. Occupants in the car wear a safety harness, sometimes a five-point one. Many times racers will wear helmets as well.
The stand out feature of the solar powered vehicle is the solar panels made up of photovoltaic cells. These cells collect energy from the sun and turn it into electrical energy. The electrical system of the vehicle uses this energy in conjunction with a battery, similar to a vehicle which uses gasoline. Designers try to put as many cells onto the car as possible. The amount of power generated depends on weather conditions and where the sun is located in relation to the vehicle. For instance, if the sun is directly overhead, the cells will be able to generate more energy.
Solar powered vehicles typically only have three wheels. In these cars, the front two wheels are used for steering and the back wheel simply follows along. Some cars have four wheels like a typical vehicle. In some four-wheeled cars, the two back wheels are close together, resembling a three-wheeled vehicle. The steering and brake systems of the cars are designed for maximum efficiency with the least amount of weight. There is no one traditional design for solar powered vehicles, so some are quite distinctive.
Solar powered vehicles are used most often in solar car races. The two most popular are the World Solar Challenge and the North American Solar Challenge. Competitors are typically corporations and universities. Some enter in order to gain experience working with alternative forms of transportation. Others view it as a way to look good in the public arena. Solar car race teams are comprised of many members, similar to a motor racing team. In addition to solar vehicles used for racing, there are also solar bicycles and motorcycles. Perhaps the most practical use for solar vehicles is in golf carts. Golf carts spend a majority of their time in the sunlight and are not driven long distances, making them ideal candidates to use this technology.