The University Record, July 23, 1996

U-M team a winner in Solar Splash competition

Engineering senior John Tressel shows off on North Lake in Chelsea during an open house the Solar/Electric Boat Team held for media. The Vee-N-Verse II took first place in the sprint race during the Solar Splash competition but couldn't match other boats for endurance.

Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services


No one could blame U-M engineering student John Tressel for showing off just a little bit. As video cameras whirred, camera shutters snapped and reporters frantically took notes, Tressel hunched over the controls of the maize-and-blue Vee-N-Verse II and floored the engine---throwing up a plume of water as his solar/electric boat skimmed the surface of Chelsea's North Lake at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour.

During an open house for media, corporate sponsors and other guests, engineering students on the U-M's Solar/Electric Boat Team demonstrated the technology and expertise that led to their victory over 17 other university teams in the 300-meter sprint category of last month's national Solar Splash competition in Milwaukee, Wis.

For the last three years, naval architecture and marine engineering students have been designing and building boats powered by a combination of solar cells and electric batteries for the annual event. This year's team made speed their top priority, according to Tressel, a U-M senior.

The 480-pound Vee-N-Verse II finished the 300-meter sprint in a world-record-breaking time of 25.7 seconds---five seconds faster than their closest competitor, says Guy Meadows, associate professor of physical oceanography and one of several faculty advisers to this year's team. U-M students also received an Outstanding Drive Train Award for excellence in boat design and were featured in CNN's coverage of the race.

"This boat is 150 pounds lighter and two feet narrower than last year's Vee-N-Verse," Tressel says. "Because it is so light, we had to design a special two-propeller drive train for stability. The driver must stay low in the boat and shift his or her weight to control its direction." Tressel and engineering senior Kristin Robinson alternated driving duty during Solar Splash.

Although the U-M team blew away the competition in the sprint category, a poor finish in the endurance portion of the race resulted in a final finish of sixth place.

"Other teams had much better endurance than we did," says Dan Cole, a U-M junior. "They were able to do 25 to 30 laps on one battery charge. We could only finish 3 l/2 laps before we burned out a solenoid." For next year's competition, Cole says the team hopes to improve the Vee-N-Verse II's power system, so the boat's overall endurance will match its speed.

"One of the best things about student competitions like this is it gives many faculty members an opportunity to work closely with undergraduate students," says Armin Troesch, professor of naval architecture and marine engineering. Troesch and former U-M Prof. William Vorus developed the software the students used to design the Vee-N-Verse II.

About 40 undergraduates and graduate students worked on the solar/electric boat project this year. Students solicited cash and in-kind contributions from the University and several corporate sponsors including Roush Technologies, which donated materials and equipment to fabricate the boat's carbonfiber/honeycomb core hull, and NuCon, which produced the drive train propellers. Solar Splash is sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.