Powering Up with the Solar Jackets

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Rachael Pocklington
Communications Office, Parents Program

As a true testament to our highly talented and innovative Tech students, I invite you to meet Corbin Klett, president of the Georgia Tech Solar Jackets. Corbin, a Georgia native, is a third-year Aerospace Engineering major and is also pursuing a minor in Engineering and Management. And what are Tech’s Aerospace students up to these days? Just take a look at the solar powered car that he and his Solar Jackets teammates are building for the World Solar Challenge 2011.

What is the Solar Jackets?

The Solar Jackets started in 2008 with only 10 students. Today there are more than 30 student members. We are a non-profit student competition team dedicated to the development of efficient transportation technology. All of our work is non-credit. Our team consists of multi-disciplinary undergraduate and graduate students - mostly from the College of Engineering - with a passion for understanding the potential that solar energy holds for the future.

The team’s first project was the Audi TT Solar-Assisted Electric Vehicle (SAEV) which has been featured at many events across Atlanta, including the popular EcoLife event at Atlantic Station. What stands out is the unique blend of stored electric energy and photovoltaic power. The stored energy powers the drivetrain while the photovoltaic power supports the auxiliary systems on the car. Unlike hybrid cars, this one doesn’t use any fuel - nada.

What kind of car is Solar Jackets building now?

At the moment we are preparing for the World Solar Challenge this coming October. It is a 3,000 kilometer race across the Australian outback. There is no prequalifying race, all you need to do is build a completely solar powered car. Sounds easy, right? Currently, we are building the car using a lightweight carbon fiber shell and employing emerging photovoltaic technologies. Actually, one of our sponsors is Suniva, [a company formed from Georgia Tech research in photovoltaics]. Georgia Tech in one way or another has pioneered many of the technologies that we use to build these ultra-green cars.

What happens next?

After the Solar Jackets team, which is assisted by other teams, puts the frame together, we should commence testing by mid-spring. We should have a completely operational car during the summer semester and will then begin a rigorous testing and refinement phase.

You mention other teams - what do they do?

In addition to the current 30 students in the Solar Jackets, we are assisted by five electrical and computing engineering senior design teams. For most, their capstone project will be designing the various electrical systems that power and control the car.

There are also other auto teams at Tech all with a particular focus. The GT Motorsports team builds Formula SAE cars. The Solar Jackets works with electric vehicle technology, and the EcoCar team is developing an advanced hybrid drivetrain. GT Off-Road designs and builds a rugged, off-road vehicle from scratch every year. Wreck Racing is a fun one too. They won first place in their most recent competition. The team only spent $2,011 on their car - an extremely cost effective design.

What would you say is the greatest benefit of your involvement in Solar Jackets?

There are lots of benefits. Primarily, you get the hands-on experience in applying what we learn in the classroom - we are actually building a vehicle that works! It also helps develop leadership and teamwork skills. Tech students really benefit from this type of involvement because they learn skills they may not have learned otherwise. As students, we also gain great exposure to industry leaders and the products they are developing. For instance, we are able to perform our composites work in the Delta Air Lines facilities and work with solar cell engineers from Suniva. Not to mention the incredible access to the technology that Georgia Tech is spearheading. Recently, we learned that Delta will be transporting the entire team and the vehicle to Australia next fall for free. It's good to have these connections.

Visit the Solar Jackets website for more information on Solar Jackets including how you can participate in the Adopt-A-Cell sponsorship program.


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    Rachael Pocklington
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