Analysis Software Used to Test Solar Car Steering and Stability

The Toronto, Canada-based Power of One solar car was built to set world distance records and promote the use of sustainable energy, unlike most solar cars that are built for racing. Most solar cars are designed only for controlled conditions on a track, but the Power of One project’s focus is practical solar technology that manufacturers can adapt into future mass-produced vehicles.

altPublic interest in such innovations is growing as crude oil soared to near $70 per barrel last summer, and gas prices rose in response. Hybrid vehicle sales are growing faster than any other category, and the recently approved U.S. energy bill includes tax credits for hybrid car buyers.

COSMOSWorks® design analysis software from SolidWorks Corp. of Concord, MA, has helped perfect key systems of the revolutionary new Canadian solar car that passed a recent round of track tests without a single incident.

The Power of One solar car completed a battery of speed, brake, and stability trials last July that confirmed its suspension and steering systems are ready to drive on Canada’s roads as soon as the government grants permission. Engineers used COSMOSWorks software to anticipate whether these systems would stand up to real-world road conditions — from warm and dry, to cold and icy, at speeds up to 50 miles per hour.

Power of One engineers designed the solar car’s front-end support arm in SolidWorks 3D mechanical design software. Then they ran COSMOSWorks FEA (finite element analysis) tests on the 3D solid models to determine how they would perform as physical objects. The test showed that the car’s support arm would probably fail under the load it had to support.


The Power of One staff tried reinforcing the arm, but it grew too heavy. They designed a new arm that passed the FEA test. Those results were vindicated when the solar car drove for the first time in December 2004, then again in March 2005, in the first test of a solar-powered car in freezing temperatures on icy roads.

“By the time we drove the car again in July, we had only one failure, and that was due to a manufacturing flaw and not the design,” said Power of One Program Director Marcelo da Luz. “All the modifications we based on the analysis held up.”

“The Power of One’s work is so specialized and advanced that they have very little existing knowledge they can use as a model to guide their designing,” said Suchit Jain, vice president for analysis products at SolidWorks. “At the same time, the program has the same cost and time pressures that a commercial project would, so they need all the savings they can get.”