Solar Model Cars
By Bill Kuhl http://www.scienceguy.org
Looking for more science projects on the Internet, I ran across ran across
the Junior Solar Sprint Competition. I have been interested in alternative
energy for a long time, so I decided I would build a solar powered model
EverythingHobby had two Tamiya solar panels and one motor. I purchased
the motor and the ½ volt 1200 mah panel to start with thinking both panels
were the same. I later purchased the other panel which was 1.5 volts
400 mah, this would be good for experimenting with trade-offs between
voltage and amperage.
For my next car I purchased the panel and motor specified for the Junior Solar
Sprint Competition, in my first tests of running this car pictured above, the speed
is at a jogging speed. This car was also an experiment in using bamboo to
stiffen the thin plywood chassis.
I also purchased a 10-pack of kit cars from Pitsco because the price is below
$10 a car and I thought this would be good for a class this summer. The solar
cell is rather tiny so I used lower gearing to get the car to move, but it will work
fine in bright sun.
The model solar cars appear to be a good activity to learn about harnessing
sunlight, electricity, electric motors, gearing, and construction ideas.
The first car I built from Tamiya components I found in local
The second car built using solar panel and motor specified in
Junior Solar Sprint rules.
Sun Zoon Lite car kit was the third car I built which is an
Applications for Photovoltaic Solar Power
This large solar panel seen at the Minnesota State Fair was available
Another smaller solar panel seen at Minnesota State Fair
Demonstrating Small Electric Motors
This demonstration electric motor leaves everything exposed to show
how motor operates.
Close-up of brushes and commutator in demonstration motor.
Commutator and windings seen in Speed 400, a typical brushed electric
motor. Note: When looking for a motor for solar power, it helps to look at
the start-up current requirements as some motors require more electricity
to start than others.
Chassis turned upside down before I put layer of balsa on top of eyelets
which completes the balsa sandwich.
Motor running, gears must mesh easily for good performance.
The correct gearing is a trade off between quick enough acceleration and
top speed. Small gear on motor shaft is the “pinion” and large gear is the
Solar panel in the horizontal position, adjusting the panel to match the
angle of the sun will make a big difference in performance.
Ping pong ball used for swivel. Straps were made plastic in a cottage
The underside of rear half of car shows reinforcement done with
plywood and bamboo.
After seeing the pivot on the Tamiya panel, I built my own swivel
joint using a ping pong ball.
Platform for panel made from Popsicle sticks and thin plywood. Velcro
fastens the panel to the platform, the panel could easily be switched to
another car. I like to design everything to be flexible if possible.
Pitsco SunZoon Lite
I ordered the 10 pack of solar cars from Pitsco which are very
reasonably priced. The car goes together easily but needs very bright
sun to move the car.
Pitsco SunZoon Lite kits are available in a 10-pack.
Gear font gave the specs of all the gears included, more gears than
needed are included but might be useful for another project.
Many gears are included but some are larger in diameter than the
wheels which is a problem.
I installed the 20-tooth pinion gear per the instructions but the car
would only move in really bright sunlight. With the PV panel putting out
less than ½ volt there is no power to spare. Spur gear 40-tooth.
I installed the smaller 10-tooth pinion gear on the motor
shaft but it does not match up with the spur gear, a
modification would be needed.
I flipped the car over and considered putting the motor in the rear
but the solar cell could not rest on the motor because the wheels
were in the way.
Moving the motor in front of the spur gear will prop up the
solar panel and gears mesh fine. The gear ratio is now 1:4
which gives the car more torque to move.
Completed car, some of the wood chassis could be cut off
making the car slightly lighter.