South Florida Students Design, Build Solar-Powered Car - NBC 6 South Florida

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South Florida Students Design, Build Solar-Powered Car

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    Students at Western High School in Davie have designed and built a solar-powered car. (Published Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015)

    At first glance, it's hard to figure out what the Solarcat is. Giant tricycle? Science fair project? Time machine?

    It's actually a car, even though it has just three wheels, and it's built for racing, even though its top speed is only about 30 miles per hour.

    What makes the Solarcat extraordinary is that it's powered by sunshine, and it was built and designed by high school students.

    "This car is our pride and joy. We put two years of time into this and I'm just really happy that it came alive," said Chen Lin, a junior at Western High School in Davie. 

    A team of budding engineers at Western High engineered the car from scratch, using parts from motorcycles, golf carts and anything else they could find.

    "As a teacher, I cannot be more proud of my students," said Chin-Tang Liu, who teaches the elective class in which the car was built. "As a teacher, I always ask myself, how can we do a better job providing a program that's going to challenge our students to think outside the box and be good problem solvers?"

    He came up with the idea of building a solar-powered car three years ago. Now his students are garage rats, spending hours of their free time after school tinkering on the car, with mentoring help from Motorola Solutions.

    "I am very impressed. It's unbelievable that students from the ages of 14 to 17 are able to come up with this," said Alex Marron of Motorola Solutions. 

    NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin, who normally drives the No. 11 car on the NASCAR circuit, took the Solarcat for a spin a couple of weeks ago. Not the G-forces he's used to, but impressive nonetheless.

    "I liked riding around in the solar car," Hamlin said, praising the ingenuity and dedication of the boys who built it. "It's very cool to see what technology can do and how smart these guys are."

    The kids said Hamlin inspired them. The Solarcat finished 10th in the nation in a recent competition for solar-powered cars, and they're vowing to do better next year by making the car lighter and improving its aerodynamics and its charging system.  

    "This car is very cool," said Stephen Thomas, one of the students on the design team. "It's the fact that something of this caliber was built by high school students."

    The Solarcat can do 20 mph for about three hours on a single charge, but if it's sunny outside, can theoretically go for many hours more as sunshine continuously charges the batteries which feed the electric motor.

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