Well, that was the idea of Vinny Cozzolino and his team at FALA Technologies up in Kingston, as well as of Dean of the SUNY-New Paltz School of Science and Engineering Dan Freedman and of SUNY physics professor and head of the New Paltz team that designed this odd little car, Mike Otis. The idea was to set a new world record for a solar-powered land vehicle down on a Stewart Airport runway this past Friday (the present Guiness World Record for this type of land vehicle is 55.07 miles per hour, set by the University of New South Wales of Australia's Sunswift IV in January 2011). It was set to go off, say around noon....when the sun is at its apogee. Everything was ready to go, but on Thursday, preparing for a test-run, the group discovered a glitch in its rotator engine...and the record attempt was cancelled.
This new vehicle wasn't the first model designed and built by SUNY-New Paltz and FALA Technologies. The first, a year ago, looked kind of like a small boat (designed by SUNY-New Paltz student Steve Carson), powered by solar cells that wrapped themselves around a fabricated (by FALA and Ulster County BOCES) chassis and a molded shell designed by none other than the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (the storied MIT) and charged up a battery. This, the original model (a three-wheeler whose infrastructure was made from carbon fiber, Kevlar, Nomex and aluminum) was named the SUNyHAWK and took on the biggies (University of Texas, Stanford, U of Michigan and others), finishing eighth out of the field of 17 schools in the American Solar Challenge's 1200-mile road race from the plains of Tulsa, Oklahoma to the skyscrapers of Chicago.
The new vehicle has a Wright Brothers-like infrastructure (think bicycle parts with an engine attached to the rear wheel), with the driver lying face-down (like Orville did way back when at Kitty Hawk). Overhead are four store-bought insulation panels embedded with solar cells. And that's it. "It's about weight," says FALA Tech's Pete DiCapua, "we're trying to get the most power with the fewest cells. It's all about the wattage, so we sacrifice its aerodynamics because it is a purely solar-powered vehicle...there is no battery."
This all kind of started with a science teacher from Newburgh Free Academy named Lee Cabe, who graduated from The College at New Paltz (it wasn't called SUNY yet) in the mid-1960's. Cabe built a solar car, adapted from a standard model and reconstructed from the ground up. There was a lot of interest. Especially at the now SUNY-New Paltz. Enter the Solar Energy Consortium, an industry-led, not-for-profit group involved in research and the manufacturing of solar energy cells and related technologies and initiated by SUNY-New Paltz alumnus Cozzolino in 2007. He became an advisor for the Solar Racing Team and helped secure the $250,000 to construct the SUNyHAWK from the Department of Energy (DOE) through Congressman Maurice Hinchey and many other sponsors, both corporate and individual.
"The College works with The Solor Energy Consortium to promote solar energy research and develop technology in New York State, to boost New York's job hires within solar energy-related companies, to advance solar technology innovations, and disseminate the most current information on basic and applied research and technology within the solar energy field," says Cozzolino.
"This record attempt recognizes that the School of Science and Engineering is competing at a high-tech, high-caliber level against universities and organizations that are much bigger than us. In terms of job creation, claiming this record, even the challenge itself, is a great boost to the region. We'll begin to develop a culture that will attract companies to the Hudson Valley region where they'll want to invest in research and be the vanguard of creating a regional hub where high-tech manufacturing thrives."
"The solar car exemplifies these efforts," adds Dean Freedman, "and it is a community effort by local industry, The Solar Energy Consortium, SUNY-New Paltz and the Port Authority at Stewart International Airport. The SUNyHAWK is the most visible of a number of projects happening here at New Paltz that involve basic and applied research on renewable energy sources."
SUNY students Colin Morrell (physics), Kira Cozzolino (business), Caitlin O'Donnell (political and environmental sciences), Andre Candido (electrical engineering), Ray Williams (physics) and driver Luke Stover (physics), along with TSEC advisor Katie McKeon, who does outreach and marketing for the group, are the heartbeat behind the project. All have passionate responses to the why of the project.
Morrell, laughing, says "I wanted to build something and then race it." Kira Cozzolino wanted to be part of something creative, "and for the future." Williams was "just sitting around with friends and talking about building a solar car." For McKeon "it took a lot of time and energy, but had heart." O'Donnell took a renewable energy course, "a Bio-Energy course and I saw it politically, about energy policy and how it effects all of us." And Candido thinks that the future is "electric cars, but solar-powered is probably more than a generation away."
For Cozzolino, he doesn't think that the future of solar power will be with automobiles, instead "I can see fields and fields of solar panels, roof-tops in urban areas as far as you can see, giving us electricity...but," and he chuckles, "for now, this is our Space Shuttle launch."
The launch has been moved to Spring 2012.