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Solar-Powered Cars Race fron Austin to Calgary 217

Posted by timothy
from the other-way-would-seem-more-sensible dept.
dblizzard writes "The North American Solar Challenge race is about to start. Travelling at speeds of up to 130km/hr (80mph), these teams will race from Austin Texas to Calgary Alberta all with no non-reusable energy. Here's the race link, and here's some really cool photos of the Queens' University car."
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Solar-Powered Cars Race fron Austin to Calgary

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  • Irony (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ron Harwood (136613) <{harwoodr} {at} {linux.ca}> on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:29PM (#13037476) Homepage Journal
    Are the start and destination supposed to be ironic (oil vs solar power)?
    • How in god's name is it ironic?
      • Re:Irony (Score:3, Informative)

        by Black Cardinal (19996)
        Texas and Alberta are both big oil-producing regions.
        • Texas is a reserve. Not very many oil wells pumping here at all. Austin is where 99% of the liberals in TX migrate to so it's pretty much left-wing central for the state. Lots of things like this go on in Austin for cleaner environments, etc. Too bad they won't let them build more than 3 major roads due to killing lizards or owls or something though. All these cleaner burning cars are just going to sit still in traffic with the rest of us ;)
      • Perhaps your understanding of irony is flawed due to excessive Alanis Morissette listening.

        Irony [reference.com] ...
        • I apologize, I thought you were implying it was ironic because "wow?! what are the chances" but after further reading your comment I see now what you meant. Im sorry.
    • Re:Irony (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tricops (635353)
      What does solar have to do with the destination? Alberta is known for oil and gas, and some wind turbines as well in some select areas... As a resident of Calgary, I haven't a clue what you're on about.

      That aside, I really wish the link hadn't died within the first minute... it would be interesting to see when/where they're coming in so I could have a looksee.
      • Re:Irony (Score:3, Informative)

        by wankledot (712148)
        That's the point. They are traveling between two oil towns. It would be like staging an anti-nuke march between 3 mile island and chernobyl. (obviously not possible, but you get the idea.) Or having a defense-of-marriage march through the middle of the Castro district.
    • Re:Irony (Score:3, Informative)

      by gonk (20202)
      A little FYI. Austin Energy leads the nation in green power. From www.austinenergy.com:

      "GreenChoice is the most successful utility-sponsored green power program in the nation with 383 million kWh in subscriptions at the end of 2004."

      robert
      (yes, I'm a GreenChoice household)
      • Re:Irony (Score:2, Informative)

        by beasstman (462291)

        Enmax (the major power supplier for Calgary) also has a fairly serious program to promote alternate energy. As one poster pointed out, they have a number of windmills, and claim the local light rail runs on power from it. (I find it hard to believe they actually have the power seperated out in a special grid, I suspect they just produce *enough* power from wind to run the trains, but the marketing imagery is clever anyway)

        Users can also sign up to help pay for wind generation by paying a bit more for elec [enmax.com]

        • Users can also sign up to help pay for wind generation by paying a bit more for electricity.

          Apoligies in advance since I'm not sure how it works in Canada, but...

          You sign up to pay extra for wind turbine electricity to the power company who is getting subsidized to build and use the wind turbines in the first place? Sounds like the power company is laughing all the way to the bank with that.

          • Yes, between the subsidies and the higher rates, wind is already preferred by many customers because they know it's lowering their costs of living, like the Greenhouse and other pollution. Even before everyone else is forced on board by $100:bl oil. Which makes it actually possible that the power company will be able to transition more people to wind when they must, because it'll already be up, running and proven.

            No need to thank us for dragging along all the people burning up the planet as we do something
            • Voting with your dollars - no problem here.

              We've got a similar program where I live in Iowa with Alliant Energy, but I'm not taking part. The wind turbines are going up all over the place with or without my acceptance of higher rates. I'm not convinced that this is anything more than a marketing ploy that gives the utility the ability to bill a higher rate to the consumer. Heck, most businesses wish they could do that :)

              As far as wind power goes, I'm all for it. Northern Iowa bristles with some ver

  • WTF? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Quasar1999 (520073) on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:30PM (#13037486) Journal
    Non-reusable energy? Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it simply is transferred around. What does non-reusable mean exactly? Do they mean non-renewable?
    • Re:WTF? - Entropy! (Score:2, Informative)

      by BrianMarshall (704425)
      It is true that energy is neither created nor destroyed. However, gasoline is a highly concentrated, relatively low-entropy source of energy that can be used to do things; after it is used, the energy is still around, but it is in the form of heat - first in the engine and exhaust, then in the air, then just around - a relatively high-entropy form of energy.

      In other words, gasoline is non-reusable in the sense that you can get work out of it when you burn it, but once it has been burned, it is burnt.

      • Re:WTF? - Entropy! (Score:3, Informative)

        by dreamchaser (49529)
        That's not *entirely* true. A turbocharger uses the power from the waste gasses(exhaust) to drive the turbine that then adds boost to the air/fuel mix. So in that sense, the gasoline is used twice ;)
        • A turbocharger increases the backpressure, which increases the engine load. It would probably be just as effective (though more geometrically challenging) to run the turbo-charger directly off the shaft.

          The turbo is not running off of unspent fuel (and if it were, some kind of system for preventing that.. say a turbo of some kind... would be appropriate) So no, you're not getting 'free power' from the spent gasses.
          • A turbocharger increases the backpressure, which increases the engine load. It would probably be just as effective (though more geometrically challenging) to run the turbo-charger directly off the shaft.

            You mean a supercharger [wikipedia.org] would be just as effective? Maybe.
            • ISTR superchargers are generally less efficient because they don't harness the waste energy going out the exhaust. The advantage of a supercharger lies in the fact that it doesn't lag. A supercharger may also be cheaper bacause it runs at much lower speeds.
              • Another well known method is to compound supercharge, that is, use both crankshaft driven and exhaust gas driven compressors to maximize power output.

                • Correct, but that's fairly rare (the only use I know of is the Lancia Delta S4, a group B rally car) because of its complexity and cost.
                  Another variation, the turbocompound engine, uses turbochargers plus a second turbine that has an output to the crankshaft. This increases efficiency, so it's a little more popular (Scania and Volvo use it in truck engines, some of the last generation of large aircraft piston engines used it as well).
          • I didn't say you were getting free power. I simply stated that the energy from the gasoline was being used more than once, in more than one manner.

            And as someone already pointed out, you described a supercharger
        • That's not *entirely* true. A turbocharger uses the power from the waste gasses(exhaust) to drive the turbine that then adds boost to the air/fuel mix. So in that sense, the gasoline is used twice ;)

          Except,that this isn't entirely true, either. A turbocharger uses the difference in pressure from the exhaust of the motor and the outside air. This pressure comes from someplace, and in this case, it's the intake and compression strokes of the motor. If the energy consumed by a turbocharger wasn't pumped back
          • You can step back and consider the turbo-charger to be part of the engine.

            You can be very clever about using as much of the energy in the gasoline as you can, but in the big picture, you burn your gas, you get some work done, and at the end of it all, the air gets a bit warmer.

            Same for the solar power, but the Sun has a BIG fuel tank.

    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Shkuey (609361) on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:52PM (#13037670)
      In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!
    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by orzetto (545509) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @02:57AM (#13040099)

      <Thermodynamics nazism>

      Energy is divided in two parts, exergy [wikipedia.org] and anergy. Their sum (i.e. energy) is constant, as the first law of thermodynamics goes.

      Exergy is the part that you can convert in any form you like. Heat at ambient temperature is 100% anergy, since it's at equilibrium with its surroundings (yet it does contain energy, because those molecules are indeed moving around). Electricity is about 100% exergy, since it can be transformed in pretty much anything. Sunrays are in equilibrium with the sun's surface, about 5000 kelvin; therefore, they are about 1-300/5000=94% exergy. Heat used in cars, coal plants and gas turbines is exergy to various degrees depending on the combustion temperature [wikipedia.org].

      As there is no such thing as a free lunch in thermodynamics, exergy is destroyed and corresponding anergy generated in any (real) process. Destroyed exergy is equal (ideally) or larger (in practice) than the energy you actually use.

      So, all energy is non-reusable, because if you use it, you corrupt it to anergy, and you can't use it again; mathematically and physically it's still there, but not in a useful form: you can't use the same sunray twice. That's why quite some time ago someone came up with the word renewable, meaning that you are quite safe if you count on the sun delivering sunrays forever (at least on human scale).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:30PM (#13037490)
    Great, so now I can use the same bit of sunlight over and over until I have enough power stored up to finally take over the world!
  • Uhm (Score:5, Informative)

    by Andrew Tanenbaum (896883) on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:31PM (#13037492)
    Solar isn't reusable. There's just a lot of it.
  • Wasn't Halley Berry in this movie? I hope she wins! I have the faith! Hollywood always makes the end a surprise!
  • I read they summary as "allowed to use non-reusable" at first.

    I don't like no double-negatives.
  • by pestie (141370) on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:31PM (#13037500) Homepage
    with no non-reusable energy.

    And apparently without no double negatives, too!
  • by lheal (86013) <lheal1999@@@yahoo...com> on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:34PM (#13037524) Journal

    Why don't they just use the sunlight as direct propulsion? Then they'd go really fast.

    There's probably some reason they don't. Those people are really smart.

    Are there rules against travelling at close to light speed in these races? Oh, I see, they go throught towns. That must be it.

    • by eta526 (833281)
      Actually, they have to stay within the speed limit. That's the only reason they don't go faster. UMR won last time. I'm hoping they can take it again. http://news.umr.edu/news/2005/solarprkit05.html [umr.edu]
      • UMR (Score:3, Informative)

        by Otto (17870)
        UMR has won three times now, I think. Before that, they always did pretty well. The solar car team is a reasonably big deal at Rolla, what with there being little else to do in that hellhole of a town. I should know, I was there for 5 years. :P

        And if they lose, well, they always have St. Pats in which to drown their sorrows. :)
    • Hmmm ... if light travels at 186,000 miles per second, I wonder how fast I would go if I managed to latch onto a photon as it passed between my fingers? Don't try this at home folks :-)
  • neat (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    here's some really cool photos of the Queens' University car. [www.qsvt.ca]

    Down here in the States, it's hard enough to get equal marriage rights... but in Canada, there is a whole University just for Queens!
  • Fron? (Score:3, Informative)

    by agm (467017) * on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:36PM (#13037537)
    Can't the editors do something so simple as spell check a word a 6 year old can spell?
  • Ummm... (Score:2, Funny)

    by T_R_J (533553)
    What is Fron? Fron Fron...?? ....From?
  • Good luck! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Mr2cents (323101) on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:37PM (#13037544)
    .. and I hope it will become a better success than the arctic winter solar car race.
  • Solar Lifetime (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Valacosa (863657)
    I'll be rooting for my home team. [uwaterloo.ca]
    How much energy does it take to make a solar panel? Once in a while I hear someone say that solar panels take more energy to manufacture than they will produce in their entire lifetime, but I don't buy that without any numbers...
    • Re:Solar Lifetime (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The numbers I have been taught (studying sustainable development) is that a solar cell works with semiconductors, preferrably rather rare such ones, such as indium for instance. These minerals are at sparse concentrations when mining, so the energy consumtion is indeed great. However, a modern photovoltaic solar panel has an efficiency of somewhere 15%-20% of incoming energy from the sun. The energy needed to mine what's needed measures to somewhere between two and five years (depending on type. there are a
  • Route (Score:2, Informative)

    by JeiFuRi (888436)
    I wonder what route they will be taking. But anyways, heres a nice idea of the distance between the two locations from Google Maps [google.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    no non-reusable energy

    no non-nonsense editing
  • by John Seminal (698722) on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:45PM (#13037623) Journal
    This is the smartest way to build new technologies. Find some really smart science kids (well maybe not kids, but at my age people in their 20's are puppies).

    Anyways, find these smart pups and have an open competition. Not only will the smart kids find ways to build things, but they must be economical. It is not like a lab at Motorola with millions of dollars.

    And third, patent everything these kids do, by a univeristy or some trusted public group, and let anyone use the patents for free (except Microsoft, fuck them).

    The genius of this system is kids love to compete and show off their genius. They will do it all for pride and because it is interesting. It stimulates their mind, they get caught up in it, and they build fantastic things. Meanwhile, everyone else benifits, no monopolies from these new inventions. And maybe the public group that holds these patents could use them as leverage against large companies, to force them to pay a fee, and in some cases to ban them from using the patent for their preditory buisness practices.

    This is how a community can help itself without giving one CEO compelete power to ruin lives.

    And I hope these kids build things that soon will be used in real cars, to reduce the amount of gasoline needed. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have cars with 100 miles per gallon of gas, and that emitted 1/10th the amount of pollution? It is possible.

    • We have companies like New Generation Motors [washingtonpost.com], which is owned by the former advisors of the George Washington University solar car team, and they used equiptment that had been bought for the project tax exempt. (and when I tried asking for the stuff back, I got bitched out and told that our faculty advisor could store the stuff whereever he wanted, even if it meant we couldn't use it on the project) -- although he was kind enough to give us stuff with 'property of NASA' tags on it, where two of them also wo
    • I hate to be the wet blanket, but I really don't see this as being terribly useful. Does it sound like fun? Sure. If making renewable energy more of a reality is the goal though, this seems like a waste of funds. Solar cars will never be a reality. It doesn't matter what you do, there is a finite limit on how much energy hits the surface of the earth per area, and it isn't a lot.

      That is not to say that we couldn't make solar powered cars that would fit most people's driving needs. This contest certai
      • the elimination of most luxuries

        Like, for instance, heat in the wintertime :)

        That's kind of a big stumbling block for solar (or any electric) vehicles in areas north of the Mason-Dixon line. I had a vehicle where the heater fan wouldn't function below about 35F. That really sucked in the middle of winter.

    • You're bitter aren't you? :)

      The smartest way to build new technologies is to offer some sort of financial reward that exceeds the costs and effort for coming up with such technologies. By definition, it must be "economical" because you need to see a reward that is greater than your investment.

      Oh wait - we have that already. It's called CAPITALISM.

      Go to Soviet Russia for communist technology "contests" and see how far that sort of "innovation" takes you.
      • Go to Soviet Russia for communist technology "contests" and see how far that sort of "innovation" takes you.

        (That may require time travel innovation first, but that's not my point.)
        As a programmer I have the greatest respect for innovation by Soviet colleague. These guys put astronauts into space in stuff that's more reliable and energy-efficient than anything NASA or ESA could come up with, yet their "hi-tech" computer hardware had a disadvantage of some 20 years. Imagine that.
    • Unfortunately, in the Real World (TM) it doesn't work anything like that. Everything these kids do is owned by their schools, who will quite happily patent it and spin off a company to sell it if they see any actual potential to make real money off of it. If not, then at least they get some good advertising for their school by participating.
  • by Omega1045 (584264) on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:46PM (#13037627)
    See subject line. The sun is just going down here in Austin, and I see their server is fried. Using the reasoning I have learned here at Slashdot, that means that their server must be solar powered!
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:49PM (#13037644)
    Travelling at speeds of up to 130km/hr (80mph), these teams will race from Austin Texas to Calgary Alberta all with no non-reusable energy.

    That will be an impressive feat, with the US Federal highway speed limit of 65, and a Canadian speed limit on major roads up there not much faster; 100km/hr to 120km/hr, if I recall on my last trip?(it was months ago, sorry). Why is it that nobody else is allowed to break the speed limit, but these guys are? Particularly given their vehicles have about zero crashworthyness?

    I'm also curious how they plan to keep solar cars from mixing with general traffic; there has been at least one fatal accident involving a solar car (which came apart like paper mache) a few months ago when a solar vehicle was being tested.

    Honestly, what was wrong with an enduro race on a closed race circuit? At least then it would be more controllable, and emergency/rescue crews would be barely a minute or two from any participant. There are numerous reasons we do our racing OFF public roads...

    • by (startx) (37027)
      There hasn't been a Federal Interstate speed lmit in, oh, 10 years now. Each state is allowed to set their own Interstate speed limits. For example, it's 70mph through most of MO, and 75 in CO I think. Interestingly, the last time I drove through KS to CO, everyone slowed down when crossing the border, even though the speed limit went up! I think it had something to do with the sign that said "Speed limits are enforced."

      Back On-topic: Go UMR [umr.edu]! Time for Solar Miner IV to win a second race!
      • Time for Solar Miner IV to win a second race!

        Looks like I should have checked the page before I submitted. The current car is Solar Miner V, not IV!
      • Interestingly, the last time I drove through KS to CO, everyone slowed down when crossing the border, even though the speed limit went up! I think it had something to do with the sign that said "Speed limits are enforced."

        I'm from CO, and drove to KS each year to visit relatives. Believe me: it's because, well, it's Kansas. You get in, get out, as fast as possible.
      • Interestingly, the last time I drove through KS to CO, everyone slowed down when crossing the border, even though the speed limit went up! I think it had something to do with the sign that said "Speed limits are enforced."

        As opposed to South Dakota - I believe that they're speed limit signs say "Speed limits are ignored"

    • Well, I can tell you that's well below the unofficial Northern California speed limit. Here, everyone drives as fast as they feel like (usually around 90 mph) and the cops pull people over at random. It works out pretty well. Most people can rest assured they won't get a ticket for a number of years, and you get places quicker. Though, I do have a problem with all these damn Hummer H2s going ninety-plus, but, let's face it, a few Deep Impacts every now and then are the price we have to pay for progress.
      • by fimbulvetr (598306) on Monday July 11, 2005 @07:11PM (#13038186)
        Although I'm pretty young and should drive fast and reckless, my A4 gets about 19-23mpg at 80MPH and about 34-38mpg at 60. I rarely drive to/from work faster than 55-60. Honestly, why would I? It doesn't feel like a race anymore once you slow down. It's kinda like that time when you forget to where your watch and never put it on again because of your newly discovered freedom.
        Not to mention how much longer one's car will last because you're not driving it like your insane.
        I see these benefits for taking my time:
        #1. Almost 2x the mpg.
        #2. Longer lasting car.
        #3. I don't live my life in a race.
        #4. I don't need to worry about speeding tickets.
        #5. (Probably) less accidents - my reaction time stays the same but my braking distance decreases.

        Tell me why it's cool to drive (not) really fast again? People like to think they're rebels over here because they can drive over 90. Pathetic.

        Oh, I even forgot to discuss the manslaughter charges when you get busted for speeds 100+. (Could be higher or lower in your state)
        • Dammit! I knew I was gonna fuck up a (your!=you are) somewhere. So be it.
        • I don't think the idea is that it's cool to drive really fast. That's just what most people do (at least on certain highways).

          When you're talking about a six-lane freeway with lots of visibility, I'd say it's arguably quite safe to drive at these speeds so long as there is plenty of room between you and the next car. I agree that life shouldn't have to be race. But, perhaps some people just like to drive at ninety. So long as they're safe and generally courteous in the way they drive (and willing to ac
    • That will be an impressive feat, with the US Federal highway speed limit of 65, and a Canadian speed limit on major roads up there not much faster; 100km/hr to 120km/hr, if I recall on my last trip?(it was months ago, sorry). Why is it that nobody else is allowed to break the speed limit, but these guys are?

      This alternate article [jobwerx.com] states that each car must obey local speed limits.

      So it sounds like the race becomes more about efficiency and conservation of energy through the cloudy spells than it is about
    • US lifted the highway limit years ago and left it up to the states to determine the speed limit on their segments. Oddly the federal limit came down at around the same time that Montana removed its autobahn-like 'reasonable and prudent' limit on some state highways. Both the Interstate and the State highways near me (out here on the east coast) have speed limits of 75 mph. I have not seen 80 or higher, but there is no reason it cannot exist.

      But yah.. I'd sure hate to crash one of those solar cars. Or d
      • About the only chance of solar powered cars really happening is if the solar panels are stationary, and the cars pick up their power through some kind of contacts on the roadway. You know, like those toy electronic race cars.
    • by ferds32 (547377) on Monday July 11, 2005 @08:17PM (#13038534) Homepage

      I'm also curious how they plan to keep solar cars from mixing with general traffic; there has been at least one fatal accident involving a solar car (which came apart like paper mache) a few months ago when a solar vehicle was being tested.

      The rules of this race and the World Solar Challenge [wsc.org.au] are similar. (I believe this is deliberate, so a car built for one race can race in the other.) The cars are required to have escort vehicles at all times in the World Solar Challenge. I should imagine the American race would be the same.

      Honestly, what was wrong with an enduro race on a closed race circuit? At least then it would be more controllable, and emergency/rescue crews would be barely a minute or two from any participant. There are numerous reasons we do our racing OFF public roads...

      Racing on the roads gives vastly more public exposure to the technology. The public, at least in outback Australia and Japan, are facinated by the cars. Taking a few hybrids along means people also see the practical application of some of the technology and can even take a hybrid for a drive! None of that would happen on a closed circuit. There are circuit races as well, such as the Dream Cup [honda.co.jp], but they serve a quite different type of racing.

      --
      Tom Rowlands
      (Sorry, I can't sign this.)
  • Certainly leaving Texas is a noble goal, but the route seems a bit boring. It is a race, so passing through Kansas as rapidly as possible is on everyone's mind, but then it always is, no matter what. Austin to Vancouver would be a lot more challenging.
    • Certainly leaving Texas is a noble goal, but the route seems a bit boring.

      I usually don't watch a solar-powered car race for excitement, but I suppose they event organizers could put a few suicidal hills and a few land mines for excitement. Maybe even allow the competitors to have oil slicks, smoke machines, or machine guns. And have a lead car blaring out the theme to Spy Hunter during the race. Now that would NOT be boring.

  • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Monday July 11, 2005 @05:52PM (#13037664)

    The way the weather has been in Austin this last month, they should have enough power to fly to Calgary... if they don't burst into flames first.

    I have a mental image of a non-air conditioned vehicle dodging 18 wheelers on I-35.

    Hell on Earth. (Welcome to Texas)

    • You'd think so, wouldn't you? I happened to see the MIT team driving theirs on US 290, and they had a pair of people running behind it and pushing periodically... unless they get those bugs out, MIT is going to have to hope for lots of downhill stretches.
  • Fron (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bullseye_blam (589856) <bullseye_1@NoSPAM.yahoo.com> on Monday July 11, 2005 @06:01PM (#13037735) Journal
    I'm sorry to complain, but Slashdot's quality has really gone to hell lately. To be honest, I don't understand much about the editing process here, but something really needs to change. Between the mis-spellings and constantly late and duplicate articles, I think this web site could stand for some improvement.
    • These guys are sitting on a gold mine (properly edited /. with well-developed related services).
      It is their baby however and their choice not to make it what it could have been.
      Interesting how the quality of the comments went together with the quality of content too.
    • A new site's coming, and it seems to be decent... technocrat.net [technocrat.net]

      It's slash-based, seems to have decent content, and you can still get a UID small enough to remember if you register. It's still no match for slashdot in terms of sheer volume, but...
  • too bad it's uphill, but at least most of the route is flat.

    One interesting impact will be that if you fail to make it all the way, you start off receiving more solar radiation (power) at the beginning of the race than you have at the end of the race, as you start closer to the equator than you finish at.

    Thus, a system with a slightly better power storage system (battery) and more efficient battery cycles, might have an edge in the race over a more efficient vehicle with a smaller battery storage and/or l
  • Too bad that it's raining in Austin right now. Doh!
  • I was under the impression that energy can't just disappear, even after work is done. I should have known better though; all my energy disappears before I even get to work. Stupid thermodynamics.
  • All this engineering and these cars seem to all be using obsolete DC motors and drives.

    The Toyota Prius uses an AC motor, AC drive with the DC battery powering the DC bus of the drive.

    The sensorles torque vector control of new AC drives and standard AC motors is far and away more precice that any DC drive system or motor.

    Just hook the solar cells up in series to get 335 volts, hook it to the DC bus of an off the shelf sensorless torque vector AC drive to an off the shelf AC motor.

    The accelerator pedal w

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