CATalyst Crosses Finish Line

16 May, 2004 By: Cadalyst Staff

Wildcat graphics card drives the Kansas State University solar car racing team to the finish line.

The KSU (Kansas State University) Solar Car Racing Team spent two years engineering and building the CATalyst solar-powered vehicle, named for the university's Wildcat mascot, to enter in the Formula Sun Grand Prix and the American Solar Car Challenge. Just completing these races without incident is a feat in itself. for power. A team of mechanical and electrical engineering undergraduate students the CATalyst using white box 600MHz workstations with 256MB RAM and a 12GB hard drive powered by a 3Dlabs Oxygen GVX1 and a 3Dlabs Wildcat VP880pro graphics cards, CAD applications from PTC and analysis software from ANSYS and Fluent.


Designed for performance
To beat the competition, the CATalyst had to be energy-efficient and reliable. The competitions last for days and cover hundreds and even thousands of miles. At the 2003 Formula Sun Grand Prix race -- a three-day, single-track event -- the CATalyst sped to a second-place finish, only one lap behind the winner. At the 2003 American Solar Car Challenge, an interstate race from Chicago to Los Angeles, the solar racer finished eighth out of 20 vehicles. It did finish ahead of all other cars that used silicon solar cells, which produce less power than the newer gallium arsenide solar cells.

The CATalyst is the third solar car that KSU students have engineered. It features improved solar power capability, battery capacity, and aerodynamics compared with the previous cars. Working within the size requirements -- a maximum competition size of 1.8 meters wide by 5 meters long -- the team applied an airfoil design to the body of the car. CATalyst's curved body shape made it possible to fit more solar cells on the surface, thereby producing more power than the standard flat car.

In addition, encapsulation techniques helped the team maximize the solar array area and maintain aerodynamic efficiency. The solar cells generate power that is stored in batteries that hold up to 40 amp hours at 100 volts, the equivalent of 40,000 watt-hours. The cells produce up to 12 amps, or 1,200 watts. Roughly the same amount of power used to run a hair dryer-2-3 hp-propelled the car to speeds faster than 70mph. The designers used cutting-edge composite materials to keep CATalyst light --it weighs 625lb, including the driver -- and more aerodynamic than previous designs.

Speedy cards for speedy cars
The KSU Solar Car Racing Team set out to create an energy-efficient car with exceptional aerodynamics. Eighteen months of the two-year engineering cycle was spent designing the car, which made having a high-performance and reliable graphics card extremely important. Technology issues, such a system crash, software incompatibility, or overall slow response from the graphics subsystem in a workstation, can add days or even weeks to final delivery time for a project. The 3Dlabs Wildcat VP880 Pro graphics accelerator was one of several 3Dlabs graphics cards used to help keep the KSU Solar Car Racing Team on track to meet competition deadlines.

Brad Larson, a KSU engineering student who worked on the solar car designs, said, "I love the performance and reliability of the 3Dlabs Wildcat graphics accelerators. Wildcat graphics gave us the power that we needed to focus on details to improve the car's design and aerodynamics, without worrying about technology issues."

The Wildcat VP880 Pro also offered the team the added advantage of powering dual monitors without compromising performance. This dual-monitor capability allowed the designers to work with Pro/ENGINEER in the primary window and run other OpenGL applications in a second window.

Larson noted, "With Wildcat's superb rotating and spinning performance in Pro/ENGINEER plus the dual-monitor capability, we could visualize and evaluate car designs from every angle in real time."

The team also had rave reviews for the graphics cards' Acuity Window Manager, a simplified user interface for managing the desktop and windows.

Kansas State's team, formed in 1995, has designed, built, and raced three solar cars over the past six years in an effort to increase awareness and understanding of solar-powered automobiles. Building on past successes, their race for acceptance of solar-powered vehicles will continue with a new car that incorporates gallium arsenide solar cells, cell technology with more storage capacity.

The next big race for the group is this month at the Formula Sun Grand Prix, where they will race CATalyst for the final time. After that, the team will unveil its new car in April 2005 and race it in the July American Solar Challenge.


About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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