A group of German students left Half Moon Bay's Harbor View Inn on Tuesday morning to embark upon the U.S.-leg of a worldwide quest to set a Guinness World Record for the farthest distance ever traveled by a solar-powered car.
The car — a two-seater sports model dubbed the SolarWorld GranTurismo (GT) — runs on a battery charged by the sun via solar panels. It was developed by a team of engineering, business and graphic arts students from Germany's Bochum University of Applied Sciences, according to Devon Cichoski, a spokeswoman for Hillsboro, Ore.- and German-based solar panel manufacturing company SolarWorld.
"The SolarWorld GT is unique among solar cars in that it's designed to travel long distances," Cichoski said. "Other solar cars are designed for speed."
While the car can run at 62 to 63 miles per hour, Cichoski said, it's most comfortable cruising between 30-40 miles per hour.
The students aspire to break the world record by driving the SolarWorld GT over 21,000 miles.
The trip around the world is estimated to take over a year to complete. Beginning in Oct. 2011, the car journeyed across Australia and New Zealand before starting its U.S. leg in Half Moon Bay. While between 10 and 15 students are taking turns driving the car across the U.S. through a route that is scheduled to take it through Arizona, Texas and Florida, 30 students make up the worldwide team which will navigate it through Europe, Africa and Asia after it leaves the U.S., Cichoski said. The SolarWorldGT will conclude its journey in Australia in late 2012, according to the company.
SolarWorld sponsored the development and manufacture of the car, which cost between $500,000-600,000 to make over the last year or two, Cichoski said. The company has had a solar car sponsorship agreement in place with the Bochum University of Applied Sciences since 2006.
The car sports three square meters of SolarWorld's panels on the roof of the car and an additional three square meters of panels which can be taken out and charged when the car is stopped. The supplemental panels are stored inside the body of the car.
According to Cichoski, the SolarWorld GT first arrived in the U.S. at the Port of Oakland and was then transported by trailer to Half Moon Bay.
Why Half Moon Bay?
Because of the long distance the car is scheduled to travel, the students wanted to take smaller roads if possible, which enables the car to drive at a speed closer to what it is most comfortable with, according to Cichoski. Less traffic and access to quieter and more scenic highways and roads were also reasons, Cichoski said.
On Tuesday, the students left Half Moon Bay at 11 a.m. They planned to drive south on Highway 1 and stop overnight in Santa Cruz, according to Cichoski.
"The students fielded a lot of questions about the car from the staff and guests at the Harbor View Inn in Half Moon Bay," she said.
A support car driven by students has been following the SolarWorld GT on the road in case there is a need for support, she added.
This is the second solar car developed at the Bochum University of Applied Sciences sponsored by SolarWorld.
"The first car that students developed was more of a race car," Cichoski said. "The car attracted a lot of attention but the students felt they were missing the opportunity to develop something the public could use — so the second group of students designed something based on what might be possible in the future."
Though no public events were scheduled to showcase the car in Half Moon Bay or Santa Cruz, the students and the SolarWorld GT will be at UC Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Management on Feb. 4. On Feb. 6, the car will be on display for the public at SolarWorld's Camarillo, Calif. offices.
"SolarWorld is a panel manufacturer, but we choose to sponsor projects like this because of the awareness the car brings to the potential of solar," Cichoski said.
"The car can act as an ambassador for solar and get the public inspired," she said.
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