Off to the races

UPDATE, June 19, 2013: Northeastern’s solar boat team took first place in the visual pre­sen­ta­tion, second place in the tech­nical report, and 10th overall at the 2013 Solar Splash competition.

A team of North­eastern stu­dents is hoping to make a splash at an annual solar boat com­pe­ti­tion next week. Well, maybe not too much of a splash, given the goal is to move grace­fully through the water.

The stu­dents are com­peting in Solar Splash, billed by its orga­nizers as the world cham­pi­onship of inter­col­le­giate solar boating and being held June 12–16 in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Ahead of the annual event, each team designs and con­structs a manned solar-​​powered boat throughout the aca­d­emic year and then puts its boat to the task in a series of sprint and endurance races at the summer com­pe­ti­tion. This year, stu­dent teams will rep­re­sent uni­ver­si­ties across the United States, as well as one from India.

From left, team members Josh Johnson, Sylvia Talbott, and Scott Kilcoyne work on their solar-powered boat at a Charles River dock.
From left, team mem­bers Josh Johnson, Sylvia Tal­bott, and Scott Kil­coyne work on their solar-​​powered boat at a Charles River dock.

North­eastern team mem­bers hail the com­pe­ti­tion as an oppor­tu­nity to both tackle engi­neering chal­lenges and pro­mote clean energy, with each year’s prepa­ra­tions pro­viding oppor­tu­ni­ties to refine the boat’s design. This year, the team replaced its wooden chair with a lighter, more com­fort­able plastic seat donated by their fellow Huskies from the North­eastern BAJA team—a club that races all-​​terrain vehicles—and built a new rudder out of plywood.

The group is also using a set of lighter solar panels designed and con­structed by a group of engi­neering stu­dents for its senior cap­stone project. Two years ago, the team incor­po­rated a dri­ve­train devel­oped by another cap­stone team.

“We’ve always had a great rela­tion­ship working with the cap­stone pro­gram in the Col­lege of Engi­neering,” said Scott Kil­coyne, a rising fifth-​​year mechan­ical engi­neering student.

Five team members—Kilcoyne, Sylvia Tal­bott, Chris Hickey, Eli Abidor, and Ryan Beach—and their adviser, Richard Whalen, a senior aca­d­emic spe­cialist in the Depart­ment of Mechan­ical and Indus­trial Engi­neering, will head to Iowa for next week’s com­pe­ti­tion. Beach reflected on the all the hard work the team puts in ahead of time, whether it’s fixing the dri­ve­train or fig­uring out the best way to bal­ance the boat’s weight evenly.

“It’s been great to look at prob­lems that come up and think about how we can build some­thing that solves it or makes it work in a new way,” said Beach, a busi­ness major attending the race for the first time this summer.

A team of seniors in the College of Engineering designed and constructed solar panels for the solar-boat team to use in competition. Photo by Brooks Canaday
A team of seniors in the Col­lege of Engi­neering designed and con­structed solar panels for the solar-​​boat team to use in com­pe­ti­tion. Photo by Brooks Canaday

Hickey, a rising third-​​year mechan­ical engi­neering stu­dent, joined the team this year. “I wanted to be a part of some­thing in which I could work with my hands and that related to machining, and I thought the solar boat team was a really cool way to do that,” he said.

Kil­coyne noted that his expe­ri­ences working on the solar boat have helped him land co-​​op posi­tions at both iRobot and San Francisco-​​based Alloy Product Development.

“I’m able to talk about these hands-​​on, problem-​​solving expe­ri­ences,” he explained. “We do the whole process—we design the boat, find the parts, figure out the chal­lenges, and build it, which involves pro­to­typing along­side other engi­neers to dis­cover solutions.”


Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering