They follow the Sun


The CalSol team at the University of California, Berkeley have been successfully developing solar race cars since 1991.

Many young people dream about building or repairing a car in their garage. The CalSol team members have pushed the idea much further by designing and building futuristic and ultra-sophisticated solar vehicles.

The team’s primary objective is to compete in specialised races. Furthermore, CalSol is dedicated to inspiring interest in new technologies and new forms of mobility amongst future generations. They have received an extremely enthusiastic response from the public and the achievements of this group of around fifty students, most of them undergraduates, are closely followed by energy companies and car manufacturers. By the way, they don’t hesitate to recruit future talents from CalSol, like Tesla who have employed more than one ex-team member. CalSol is a pioneer in the United Sates. In competition since 1991, the team has designed a total of eight generations of single-seaters in thirty years. Zephyr, the latest model was created in 2012 and has been enhanced and fine-tuned since then, to become one of the most reliable models in its category and even win the 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix. Its average speed is 65 to 75km per hour, ensured by 4m2 solar panels that generate 1.3kWh power, as well as by an auxiliary battery for climbing the steepest slopes.

In order to guarantee such performance, efficiency is the key word. No detail is left to chance for optimising performance. In addition to the streamline which leaves ample space for photovoltaic sensors, wheel fairings were added for enhanced aerodynamics. They open up in every bend thanks to a retractable trap system. As for the electrical circuits, they were custom designed by the team — which is quite uncommon in the field and makes the vehicles unique.

Having proven itself at a number of Grand Prix races, Zephyr will be withdrawn from the circuits. A new exciting challenge awaits CalSol: to build Tachyon, a 4-passenger model.

This car will compete in the “Cruiser Class” against other 2+ seater solar vehicles. In addition to speed and efficiency, the judges are interested in other criteria as well, such as the practical aspects and passenger miles. Bigger, more powerful and equipped with a higher capacity battery, Tachyon is expected to run in upcoming competitions, including the prestigious World Solar Challenge in autumn 2019 in Australia. Another brilliant opportunity for CalSol students to push back the limits of technology.

LEMO has been offering connectors and technical support to the team since 2014. 

Currently, LEMO’s connectors are being used for our steering wheel connection,” explains Ray Altenberg, CalSol’s Operations co-director. “We have also used them for the connection between the top and bottom shell of our car. We began using these connectors around 2014, which was the start of our Zephyr car. We chose LEMO products since they provide high connector density and are low weight, but still are designed to be robust in high vibration environments. In particular, we liked the M-Connector for its small size and impressive robustness.

Lemo, a partner in Washington too

CalSol Berkeley is not the only university team sponsored by LEMO in the field of innovative car design. LEMO is also a partner to UWashington Formula Motorsports. This team won the overall third prize at the Formula SAE Electric 2018, an engineering design competition for undergraduate and graduate students held in Nebraska (USA) last spring. At this competition, electric vehicles are judged based on the overall package of design, construction, performance and cost.