Race for the Prize: Connecting the University of Michigan Solar Car Team

Back in August 2013, we first reported on the exciting exploits of the University of Michigan Solar Car Team in the 2013 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. We recently caught up with Jeffrey Cwagenberg, one of the principal members of the UM Team, who shared how Thuraya’s satellite equipment enabled the team to overcome key communication challenges during the race.    

Since the inaugural race in 1987, the World Solar Challenge has served as the platform to showcase the latest developments in automotive technology and explore the possibilities of solar-powered transport. Over the years, the biennial solar car competition has attracted teams from around the world - of which the University of Michigan Solar Car Team is a perennial contender, being one of the most successful solar car teams in North America.

In the 2013 edition, the 21-member UM Team entered the competition with their newest solar-powered electric vehicle named “Generation”, a marvel in automotive design that runs on the same amount of energy as a hair dryer. Locked in a heated race against some of the best solar car teams in the world, Generation finished in a strong ninth place.

“Generation”, a vehicle that runs on the same amount of energy as a hair dryer

Thuraya is delighted to have supported the UM Team in the race, providing two Thuraya XT handsets and two Thuraya IP terminals as well as sponsoring mobile satellite airtime for their communications needs. Throughout the seven-day competition, the team relied on Thuraya’s extensive satellite network coverage to keep team members connected and to facilitate a variety of purposes - ranging from data transfer and performance analysis to gaining access to weather forecasting and news updates.

Thuraya Spacecom Vehicular Antenna mounted on a UM vehicle

Jeffrey Cwagenberg, Director of Meteorology at the University of Michigan and a member of the UM Team, said, “Satellite connectivity plays a crucial role in enabling us to overcome the severe lack of cellular coverage in the more remote terrains of the Australian Outback. We were amazed by the crisp call quality that the Thuraya XT delivered, as compared to the older generation of satellite equipment. Even while racing across extreme environments and through significant weather conditions, our team members were able to communicate effectively.”

Jeffrey Cwagenberg, Director of Meteorology at the
University of Michigan
and a member of the UM Team

On the road

The superior walk-and-talk capabilities of the Thuraya XT is a vital benefit, while the use of an in-vehicle docking station allows the team to set up a satellite connection with ease.

“Another key feature of the Thuraya XT phones that really stood out was the SAT Alert mode. When traveling through remote environments, the SAT Alert mode helped ensure that we never miss a call, and this feature alone saved us much valuable time during the race,” Cwagenberg explained.

The Thuraya IP further provided high-speed broadband access for the team member to collaborate effectively and address logistical challenges faced during the race. For instance, the US federal government shutdown of 2013 resulted in disruption to many of the weather data sources that were previously used by the UM Team. With the use of the Thuraya IP, they were able to find and access new alternative sources of information via the Internet.

Cwagenberg said: “The Thuraya IP terminals were not only used for weather forecasting. When our car went off the road in a strong wind gust, we were able to download design plans from our servers to design a repair on the spot. Throughout the race, the Thuraya IP also kept our media team in contact with fans and supporters through Facebook, Twitter and Flickr posts.”

“We wouldn't have been able to be as successful as we were without the help of Thuraya. When cellular communications were as scarce as they were in the Outback, it was good to know that Thuraya was there for us!” he concluded.



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