University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project

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Members of UMNSVP pose with Borealis III and the "Tin Man" outside the Mechanical Engineering building at the University of Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project, or UMNSVP, is a team of undergraduate students from the University of Minnesota that designs and constructs solar cars. In its 24 years, it has established itself as one of the world's top solar racing teams, with top two finishes in fourteen of twenty six events entered.



The University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project was founded following the GM Sunrayce USA in 1990. With little to no prior knowledge, the team successfully built and raced Aurora I in Sunrayce `93.

Aurora Generation[edit]

The Aurora generation of UMNSVP cars, starting with Aurora II, mostly followed the "cutout" design that was typical of the 1990s, with a relatively flat body and a bubble canopy. Over three cars, the design was refined more and more. All three of the Aurora vehicles had successful trips to international races, culminating in a 4th place finish in the World Solar Challenge in Australia.

Borealis Generation[edit]

The Borealis series of cars represents the newer generation of solar cars: exotic, aerodynamic "manta-style" bodies with unlimited array area, able to (under ideal conditions) travel as fast as, or faster than, the flow of traffic on any road. All three of the Borealis cars have been extremely successful.

Centaurus Generation[edit]

The new Centaurus series of cars took the project to a whole new level by allowing the driver to sit upright while driving. Three were built in the series, and it is clear that they quickly improved to achieve the levels of success the team enjoyed with the earlier Aurora and Borealis series cars.


Daedalus is the UMNSVP's 11th generation solar car and marks a drastic design change from all of the team's previous solar cars. Designed for the new cruiser class in the World Solar Challenge, Daedalus is the team's first two-seater car and emphasizes practicality. The car incorporates padded seats, a sound system, and a Nexus 7 tablet display.


Borealis III crosses the border to Canada on July 21, 2005.

In more than 2 decades of competition, UMNSVP has built and raced 11 different cars, assembling one of the best records in solar car racing. In the team's history:

  • No car has ever failed to qualify for or finish a race.
  • First or second place finishes in fourteen of twenty six events entered
    • 1st, 2nd, and three 4th place finishes in international competition

UMNSVP takes great pride in being one of the very few collegiate solar car teams that researches, assembles, encapsulates, and attaches its own solar array. In fact, almost everything electrical on the car is designed, built, and programmed by team members.

On July 21, 2005, during the North American Solar Challenge, Borealis III passed from the United States to Canada to become the first solar car to cross an international boundary during a race.

The U of M Centaurus solar car won the 2009 Formula Sun Grand Prix on June 8, 2009 completing 487 1.7 mile laps at Cresson, Texas. This was 94 laps more than the nearest competitor. It was the second straight victory for the U of M Solar car team at this event.

The future[edit]

After completing the World Solar Challenge with Daedalus, the team is now upgrading and readying Centaurus III, now renamed Centaurus π, for the 2014 American Solar Challenge. Daedalus will go on permanent display at the PTC (software company) head office, and the team has begun design work for the next car, for now known as 'E'.

Team Composition[edit]


The UMNSVP team is composed exclusively of undergraduate students from the Twin Cities Campus of the University of Minnesota. Most of the participants are studying some sort of engineering in the University's College of Science and Engineering, but students of any major are welcome to join the team. The team is usually composed of 40 to 60 students.


The team is composed of 5 main sub-teams. Each team is responsible for designing certain components of the car, although all the systems must eventually be integrated with one another.

  • The Aerodynamics Team is responsible for designing and constructing the outside shell of the vehicle. At most speeds, much of the power to drive the car is spent on air resistance. Thus, a shell with a low drag coefficient must be built. In addition, much of the vehicle construction involving lightweight composite materials is done by the Aerodynamics Team.
  • The Array Team is responsible for creating the solar array that is the primary source of the vehicle's power. The Array Team does not just attach the solar cells to the car, but must also research encapsulation techniques to protect the fragile solar cells. The University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project is one of the few collegiate teams that encapsulates and mounts their own array.
  • The Electrical Team is responsible for designing, building, and programming all of the electrical systems of the car. This includes the batteries, power trackers, driver interface, telemetry systems, and the electric motor that drives the car. The primary goal of the Electrical Team is efficiency; the less power a device uses, the longer the car will be able to go.
  • The Mechanical Team is responsible for the design and fabrication of the structural and moving parts of the car, including the suspension, steering, and chassis of the car. The largest challenges presented are to make the components as light and as small as possible so that the car may go faster.
  • The Business team manages the project's fundraising and public relations, ensuring the team has a presence with both sponsors and various educational activities.


In addition to the 5 sub-teams, there is also an executive team. This team composed of students from the sub-teams; it is responsible for taking on the duties of the team that are not directly associated with the vehicle, such as acquiring sponsors and setting meeting times.

As with any student group at the University of Minnesota, UMNSVP must have a faculty advisor. The faculty advisor is not directly involved with the design or construction of the car, but performs executive duties and serves as a contact to the University. The current faculty advisors for the team are Professors Philip Cohen and Paul Imbertson (Electrical and Computer Engineering). Previous faculty advisors include Prof. Jeff Hammer (Aerospace Engineering) and Dr. Patrick Starr (Mechanical Engineering).


The University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project has built 11 cars in its history:

Aurora I[edit]

Aurora I was the first vehicle built by UMNSVP. It is arguably one of the largest solar cars ever built for a race. It served as a solid basis of knowledge with which to work on future projects.

Aurora I is currently in storage at Professor Marple's Farm.

Aurora II[edit]

Aurora II built heavily on the experience gained from Aurora I. It featured a complete redesign from the previous car and made the UMNSVP a permanent fixture in the world of Solar Car Raycing.

  • Sunrayce `95 (Indianapolis, Indiana to Golden, Colorado)
    • 2nd Place Overall
    • Best daily average speed (50.4 mph)
    • Awarded "EDS Best use of Aerodynamics in Design"
  • 1995 World Solar Rallye (Akita, Japan)
    • 2nd Place, Junior Class
    • 9th Place Overall (out of 79)

Aurora II is currently in storage on the University of Minnesota campus.


Aurora³ was a redesign of Aurora II, with a focus on improving the efficiency of the car. It featured a more aerodynamic shape and an in-wheel motor, which was a vast improvement over Aurora II's chain driven motor.

  • Sunrayce `97 (Indianapolis, Indiana to Colorado Springs, Colorado)
    • 11th Place Overall (out of 36), due to a brake failure after brake fluid that was incompatible with the seals on the brake system caused the team to lose most of a day for repairs.
    • Broke the Sunrayce daily speed record set by Aurora II in Sunrayce 95 with a 54 MPH average speed over the 166 mile journey from Smith Center, Kansas to St. Francis, Kansas
  • 1998 World Solar Rallye (Akita, Japan)
    • Junior Class Champion
    • 7th Place overall (out of 81)
  • 2000 Formula Sun Grand Prix
    • 2nd Place Open Class
    • 3rd Place Overall

Aurora³ is currently in storage on the University of Minnesota Campus and was displayed at the 1998 and 2006 Minnesota State Fairs.

Aurora 4[edit]

Aurora 4 improved on the successes of the Aurora class of cars. The nickel-metal hydride battery pack was the first new battery technology used by the Minnesota team, and the solar array was the first to use two different sizes of photovoltaic solar cells. The team overcame a collision with its lead vehicle and many days of rain for a 4th place finish in Sunrayce '99. It is only the second 4-wheeled car that the UMNSVP has built to date. The original Aurora I being the first.

Aurora 4 is currently in storage on the University of Minnesota campus.

Borealis I[edit]

Borealis I featured a major redesign from the tried-and-true cutout car. Instead of a flat shell with a "bubble" canopy, the team used an innovative "manta" shell design, where the windshield and canopy are integrated in to the body of the car. Also, nearly all other systems were redesigned for higher performance.

In early 2005, Borealis I was sold to the Illinois State University Solar Car Team, where it was refitted with new electronics and solar panels. ISU raced it as Mercury I in the 2005 North American Solar Challenge, where they finished 18th. Its chassis was re-used for their 2008 car Mercury II, but unfortunately, troubles with their motor prevented them from qualifying. In 2009, Mercury II finished 5th out of 11 entered vehicles in the 2009 Formula Sun Grand Prix.

Borealis II[edit]

Borealis II improved on the design of Borealis I, stressing first and foremost reliability, which resulted in a relatively heavy car. It overcame a number of mishaps that damaged the car to become one of UMNSVP's most successful projects to date.

  • 2003 Formula Sun Grand Prix
    • 1st Place Overall
    • Pole Position
    • Esprit de Corps Award
    • Ironman Competition (Tire Change) Winner (Trevre Roys Andrews)
    • Pit Crew Competition Winner
  • 2003 American Solar Challenge (Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California)
    • 2nd Place Overall
  • 2004 Formula Sun Grand Prix
    • 2nd Place Overall

Borealis II is currently in storage on the University of Minnesota Campus. Many of its solar cells were taken for use on Borealis III's reconfigurable array.

Borealis III[edit]

Borealis III leads the way during the 2005 North American Solar Challenge, passing by Lake Benton, Minnesota.

Borealis III improved upon its predecessors by stressing efficiency and weight reduction; the car weighs just over 400 lb. Borealis III was also the first solar car in history to cross an international boundary during a race; it did so on July 21, 2005 during that year's North American Solar Challenge.

During June and July 2006, Borealis III underwent slight modifications in order to race in the World Solar Rally in Taiwan in September 2006.

Borealis III is currently in storage on the University of Minnesota campus.

Centaurus I[edit]

Centaurus I was the eighth solar car built by the University of Minnesota. It featured several major design adjustments from both previous series of cars. Due to a change in the North American Solar Challenge rules for 2008 requiring the driver to sit upright, the team was faced with the task of allowing the driver to do this while still minimizing aerodynamic drag. Many design components were reworked to fit the new style of vehicle and improve performance.

A video of how University of Minnesota students built Centaurus I is available on the University of Minnesota web site.

Centaurus II[edit]

Centaurus II was designed for the 2010 American Solar Challenge. Building off of experience from C1, the team managed to build a much lighter car (389 lbs empty, versus ~440 lbs for C1), as well as decrease the aerodynamic drag by a significant margin. Despite having one of the cheapest solar arrays at the event, the team managed to finish in 2nd place overall.

Centaurus III[edit]


Daedalus marks a drastic design change from previous solar cars. Designed for the new cruiser class in the World Solar Challenge, it is the team's first two-seater car with an emphasis on practicality. The team overcame electrical problems to be in the minority of teams to finish the race without trailering.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]