Solar racing car Eleanor gets set for Australian race

Mon Apr 6, 2009 11:09pm EDT
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By Ben Gruber

BOSTON (Reuters Life!) - In a dingy basement in Boston, some scientists are putting the finish touches to Eleanor, one of the most advanced solar cars yet designed.

The technology-packed, environmentally friendly, solar racing car can hit speeds of 80 mph and drive up to 200 miles in the pitch dark - all good traits for a car getting ready for a 3,000 km race across the Australian outback.

Eleanor is the invention of the solar vehicle team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of list of universities and corporations now preparing for this year's World Solar Challenge that will be held in Australia in October.

"Eleanor is definitely pushing the limits of what can be done with solar panels and solar power," said Fiona Hughes, a senior at the school of mechanical engineering at MIT.

Eleanor, ironically named after the gas-guzzling 1967 Ford Mustang showcased in the movie "Gone in 60 Seconds," has six square meters (19.6 sq. ft.) of silicon solar panels with 1,200 watts compacity - about the same as a hair dryer.

While it doesn't seem like much power, Eleanor's weight of less than 500 pounds (226 kg) and aerodynamic design allow the car to speed down a highway as fast as many petrol based cars.

"Using just power from the sun, Eleanor can cruise without draining power from her battery pack at about 50 miles per hour. If we were draining power out of the pack we would be able to reach higher speeds, possible 70-80 miles an hour," said Hughes.

Eleanor will compete in the 10th 'World Solar Challenge' in October, a grueling 7-day, 3,000 km race from Darwin to Adelaide across the Australian Outback which is a testing event for the latest in efficient solar-powered car design.   Continued...