Engineering students at Carnegie Mellon University took the plunge again this year, competing against 11 other teams in the 2010 Solar Splash boating competition at Lake Fayetteville, Ark. The 15-member team of mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering students competed in a series of events — including sprints and endurance competitions.
An intercollegiate regatta run by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Solar Splash promotes energy conservation while giving students hands-on engineering experience in a competitive setting.
"To me the Carnegie Mellon Solar Splash team is all about being a student-run project. All of the engineering, design decisions, fund raising and construction of the solar-electric boat is carried out by the students," said team member Robbie Wedler (E'12), who oversees the boat's electrical system.
Wedler says the team has weekly work meetings to design and build and also weekly executive meetings to run the organization.
"The organization is not only a great place to learn technical engineering skills, but has also provided a great opportunity for leadership experience," he said. "We strike a balance between designing the best boat possible while still being able to build it in a hands-on manner by students."
Susan Finger, faculty advisor for the Solar Splash project, emphasized the point that the students do everything.
"They're really fun to work with. Carnegie Mellon students have a certain quality about them; they're very self-motivated, and as faculty, I give them the freedom to explore and work through challenges on their own," said Finger. "They come to me when they run into a problem they can't solve."
Wedler appreciates how Finger lets the team make important decisions.
"The funding is all acquired by students and the finances of the organization are also student run," he said. "Professor Finger is there if we need any advice, and she raises very relevant questions at our design reviews."
For Wedler, the most exciting part about the Solar Splash competition is seeing all of the different ways other teams approach the problem. "The competition is also where our year's work is put to the final test," he said.
While Wedler said the drive train caused performance issues for the team, the group won the Outstanding System Design award and place second in Outstanding Technical Report.
"We gained a lot from the competition overall," said Wedler. " We have some very ambitious plans for next year."