The Computer Science team currently consists of 8 active members, involved in two different fields, Embedded and Strategy.
The Embedded portion of the CS team is responsible for programming two of the four main circuit boards on the car: Bottom Shell and Driver Display. The Bottom Shell acts as the brain, listening to driver input and commanding the two motors on the car, while the Driver Display controls all the visual interface for the driver, including the 7-segment displays and Vacuum Fluorescent Display. The Embedded Team is also responsible for the communication network for all the devices on the car; specifically, we implement the Controller Area Network (CAN), which is a robust standard widely used in today’s vehicles.
The Strategy sector of the CS team serves to model our new car, Gato del Sol VI, and create the most optimal race plan for our upcoming races. Like any other moving system, a solar car’s energy usage can be described through a carefully designed mathematical model. Taking into account external factors such as weather, race track condition, and driver characteristics, we can determine how much energy we are using, how much energy we can gain from solar, and how much energy we have left to race. The nature of a solar car race is part-endurance, part-speed; the goal is to race as fast as you can while conserving enough energy for the rest of the race. Coupling that with unforeseeable obstacles like cloud coverage, technical issues, and traffic, it becomes a very difficult problem to solve.
The Computer Science Team’s role is unique in that our work tightly integrates with the Electrical Team’s projects. They set the hardware constraints and we design creative software to fit those specifications. In addition, the hands-on experience working with embedded hardware and strategy is something not obtainable in a classroom setting. While half of the members are relatively new to programming, the experience they have gained working with the team has assisted tremendously in their academics. Having been a Solar Car member for the past three years and the CS Team Lead for the past semester, I have witnessed the growth of our new members. I look forward to working with the team on projects and competing in two races this coming summer.