Cal Poly Freshman Hopes to Set International Land Speed Record


Solar Vehicle rendering

Cal Poly’s Prototype Vehicles Laboratory (PROVE Lab) has announced aerospace engineering freshman Lacey Davis as the driver to set a new international land speed record for the world’s fastest solar-powered vehicle.

“It’s such a unique, futuristic car — actually, it’s more like a spaceship,” Davis said. “We’re aiming to go freeway speeds on the same kind of power it takes to run a toaster, and I’ll be lying nearly flat inside to keep the car body as streamlined as possible.”

To set the record, Lacey has to complete two passes within an hour of each other, over a straight and level timed mile.

Davis wants to become an astronaut after completing her degree at Cal Poly. Meanwhile, through a grant from the American Honda Foundation, she mentors students at El Camino Middle School in Santa Maria in designing a miniature version of the solar car.

“It’s really amazing to think that I can be a role model for kids, especially girls, to show that you can do such cool things with science and engineering,” she said.

Building an ultra-lightweight car out of carbon fiber composites over 100 square feet of solar panels and efficient electric wheel motors, however, remains a challenging and expensive task for the PROVE Lab team. The team is confident that their design will beat the existing 56 mph record, if they can raise $20,000 by the end of April.

“We know from our simulations and testing that this thing should top 65 mph — fast enough to get a ticket on the freeway,” said Project Manager Will Sutton.

To complete this goal, the PROVE Lab launched a public crowdfunding campaign to raise $20,000 to complete construction of the car and to have the record officially certified by this summer.

Those who donate will be offered a variety of incentives, from 3D printed models, souvenir solar cells and the chance to have their name displayed on the side of the solar car. In the past 16 months, the PROVE Lab team has secured sponsorship from more than 30 companies, but is still looking for support from corporate and public backers.

Unlike other electric cars, the PROVE Lab solar car has no batteries or any other form of energy storage.

“This is direct-drive, pure solar energy straight to the wheels,” said chief engineer David Alexander, an aerospace engineering senior. “It’s really out there. It’s less about what you might drive in your everyday life and more about showing people just how far solar energy tech has come in terms of being able to supply the electricity we need for everything.”

More than 40 students from 13 different majors at Cal Poly are working in hopes of shattering the record and paving the way for the future of renewable energy.

PROVE Lab founder and faculty advisor Graham Doig said the car will help inspire the public to continue embracing renewable energy. “The cost of solar energy has fallen so dramatically in the last 10 years and efficiency is always increasing,” Doig said. “If the students can find enough funding to turn this idea into reality, they’re going to carve out a piece of automotive history and take their experience out into the world believing that absolutely anything is possible.”

To meet Davis, hear members of the PROVE Lab team explain their project, and make a gift, view a video at www.provelab.com. All donations are tax-deductible through a secure Cal Poly portal.

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