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Student Killed Driving Solar Car 847

Posted by michael
from the unfortunate-firsts dept.
Lev13than writes "Tragedy struck the University of Toronto's Blue Sky Solar Racing Team on Thursday when 21-year old student Andrew Frow was killed in a car accident. It appears that Frow lost control of the low-riding experimental car and was struck by a minivan head-on. The team was driving from Stratford to Waterloo (about an hour west of Toronto) as part of a tour of universities in Ontario and Quebec to mark the one-year anniversary of the 2003 Blackout. This is a big setback for solar power advocates, especially as the blackout anniversary will pass with remedial legislation stranded in Congress. More information on the accident is available here." The vehicle's design is not really street-safe - this will be a problem as more efficient, lighter cars share the road with Hummers.
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Student Killed Driving Solar Car

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  • It's sad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:19PM (#9960424)
    Some people seem more concerned about the car.
    • It's not that sad (Score:2, Insightful)

      by 2names (531755)
      The kid had to know that driving that car on the road with "regular" cars was the vehicular equivalent to entering an American Football game naked.

      When it's Bus vs. Bicycle, the bus ALWAYS wins.

      • Re:It's not that sad (Score:5, Informative)

        by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Friday August 13, 2004 @02:05PM (#9961056) Homepage
        The kid had to know that driving that car on the road with "regular" cars was the vehicular equivalent to entering an American Football game naked

        Not really...note from the story that there was a support minivan in front of him, and another behind him. That's pretty good protection.

        He lost control, and crossed the lane into oncoming traffic. That would likely have been fatal on a motorcycle, or even many smaller regular cars.

        • by Pieroxy (222434)
          There is a reason for all the automobile (and motorcycle) constructors spend so much money on security. To make the loss of control of the vehicle less likely to happen.

          That's why this "vehicle" should have never been allowed to drive on a road in the first place.

          Built by students with no (or low) security on their minds, I wouldn't have driven it for the world, on a regular road!

          Would you set your life in the hands of a school project that don't built the engine to be secure (because it's never been mea
    • Re:It's sad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by iplayfast (166447) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:30PM (#9960582)
      Concern for the student, at this point is worthless (he's beyond that).
      Concern for his family, is worthwhile.
      Concern for his concerns is worthwhile.
      Concern for the car is also worthwhile, since it is a positive concept that may be damaged by this tragic accident.
    • Re:It's sad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Titusdot Groan (468949) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:53PM (#9960894) Journal
      Considering that it is estimated that smog kills 1000-1500 people a year here in Toronto [disinfopedia.org] alone, concern about how this may set back alternative transportation options is less callous than you seem to believe.

      Needs of the few etc. etc.

    • by goodydot (749400) on Friday August 13, 2004 @02:15PM (#9961202) Homepage
      I know this is a little off-topic, but the poster mentions sharing the road with Hummers. I find it amazing that the impact points of cars, all the way around the vehicle, are not of standard height. What's the point of bumpers if they are going underneath the car on impact? Yes, I realize that off-road vehicles need higher clearance and need to use public roads to get offroad, but we see the results of non-standard bumper heights everyday, including here.
      • by virg_mattes (230616)
        > Yes, I realize that off-road vehicles need higher clearance and need to use public roads to get offroad, but we see the results of non-standard bumper heights everyday, including here.

        Sorry, but RTFA. The solar car was lacking in bumpers, and the vehicle he hit was not an SUV, it was a minivan, which has standard bumpers.

        Virg
    • by zaius (147422) <jeff.zaius@dyndns@org> on Friday August 13, 2004 @02:24PM (#9961311)
      It is incredibly sad that the substance of the debate here is whether there should be large cars on the road, and on who is ultimately to blame for this tragedy. (The entire discussion can be summarized as follows: somebody threw in a typical Hummer insult, SUV owners became defensive and started saying silly things about research not having a place in the world, everyone comes out looking like insensitive clods)

      This won't be the end of solar racing, although it will be a significant setback for the Toronto team. They have lost a friend, a teammate and many, many, many hours of work, spent not only building their car but also convincing people that their cause is worth supporting. The team has a solid history--they placed 11th in the 2003 American Solar Challenge (and won the saftey award), 12th in ASC2001, 14th in WSC2001, and they were the top rookie team in SunRayce 1999 (info from their website [utoronto.ca]).

      I imagine that the future will see a serious review of solar car saftey rules, which will result in changes to the specifications for solar cars as well as the conditions under which they should be driven. Even though solar powered cars are not the way of the future, the sport has led to the develompent of new technologies that are nevertheless important (the world's most effiecient electric motors and maximum power point trackers), and it teaches young engineers far more about engineering than they could possibly learn in any other way.

      A public show of support (and /. counts as these days) is really what the BlueSky team needs right now. Then, after the incident has been properly observed, a respectful review of the causes and solutions should get underway.

      Jeff Thompson
      Yale Solar Racing

      • Good comment, one of the most rational in this thread. One of your points got me to wondering though. You mention that the team won the safety award in the 2003 American Solar Challange. Now, I don't know if this was for safe practices, a safe vehicle, or combination of the two so keep that in mind. If the driver of the safest of these vehicles died in an accident with a mini-van, what does that portend to the safety designs of the rest of these prototypes?

        This leads me to wonder, is the research on these

    • by 0x0d0a (568518) on Friday August 13, 2004 @03:25PM (#9962076) Journal
      Look, it very much sucks that he died. However, the goal that he was working for -- solar powered automobiles -- probably has more potential impact on humanity than his direct living.

      To get a slightly more extreme example: If a doctor announced that he had discovered a cure for influenza or a way to purify water cheaply without engergy requirements, and then was promptly killed be a mugger, I'm sure that everyone would feel bad about his death, but I think that it's more than excusable to place as a higher priority finding out what happened to his work than making noises to make his family feel good. They *know* that his dying sucked already. And, honestly, I've never met or heard of the guy. If every person in the world was told "this guy died", should they all be obligated to lay down their tools and bow their heads for a moment? Of course not. The cost would be phenomenal.

      If you want grief, let it be the grief from those who can grieve, the people that knew him. Not random, anonymous strangers on Slashdot.

      As another example, every day CNN prints up stories about Iraqis dying. Should I stop and express a list of sympathetic things for an hour? No. People die. The fact that this guy had his name printed instead of just being a statistic, increasing a fatality count by one somewhere does not change that fact.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:19PM (#9960429)
    The most detailed story I've read about this was in The Kitchener-Waterloo Record [therecord.com], which unfortunately is subscription-only. From a Google News search, I don't see the article duplicated anywhere, so I am copying and pasting the article here. (There were also two photos, which unfortunately can't be linked to. Perhaps someone else with a subscription can set up a mirror.) Andrew Frow, RIP. :-(

    U of T student dies in solar car; Vehicle out of control near Waterloo Regulations being followed, police say

    A University of Toronto student is dead after the solar car he was driving veered out of control on a highway just west of Waterloo Region yesterday afternoon.

    Andrew Frow, 21, of Toronto was driving the university's team car east along Highway 7 and 8, from Stratford to Waterloo, as part of a Canadian solar car tour. The small low-riding car suddenly went out of control at about 4 30 p.m., veering across the centre line of the two-lane highway, said Constable Glen Childerley of Perth County Ontario Provincial Police.

    The car then swerved back into its lane, hitting the right shoulder. It then plowed across the highway into the path of a minivan in the westbound lane.

    "It zoomed right across the road and was T-boned by the van," said Childerley, adding the driver was alone in the solar car.

    The impact destroyed the car. Its solar-panelled roof was flung off and its shell ended up in the ditch on the north side of the highway.

    The driver's teammates rushed to his aid. The students were in two minivans, one driving in front of the solar car, one behind, when the crash occurred.

    Two of his teammates frantically performed CPR on the young man as he lay in the wreckage, said truck driver David Hackett, who pulled up at the scene moments after the accident.

    Hackett, a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Maryhill, offered to take over from the visibly upset woman doing mouth-to- mouth.

    "I'm just sorry we couldn't do more," said Hackett, who was delivering groceries to Stratford when he came across the crash.

    "I am grateful for the training that I had and that I could respond."

    Paramedics, Stratford firefighters and OPP soon arrived on the scene and took the driver by ambulance to another ambulance with a doctor and waiting medical team.

    The crew took the young man to a Kitchener hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

    After he was rushed away, police began inspecting the mangled wreckage in the ditch to determine why the crash occurred. That section of the highway was closed for hours as they worked.

    Hunks of metal, some bearing the University of Toronto logo, were strewn across the grassy ditch.

    As police worked, students on the U of T team huddled across the street, many hugging each other.

    They did not want to talk to the news media last night.

    Rudy Schoenhoeffer, who was driving the minivan that hit the solar car, was also there.

    "I'm just saying a prayer for him," the Stratford man said quietly as he stood by his van, its front end dented.

    He was on his way home from work in Cambridge when the crash occurred.

    Jessica Whiteside, U of T's acting associate director of news services, said it was too early last night for anyone at the university to comment.

    Childerley said solar cars have to get a special permit from the Ministry of Transportation to drive on roads and highways, and must travel with a regular vehicle in front and behind. Those vehicles must have flashing yellow lights on their roofs.

    The U of T car was following these regulations.

    Kitchener-Waterloo Record

    [Photo] The U of T solar car drives along Western Rd. toward the University of Western Ontario in London yesterday. Later, near Waterloo, another driver lost control.

    [Photo] OPP investigate the scene of the fatal solar car accident on Highway 7 and 8 near the town of Shakespeare, Ont., yesterday.
    • And for those of you who point out that information wants to be free, I'd say that the information itself is free. After all, there are innumerable places where you can get the facts of the case. If you want someone else to analyze the facts and call others to present testimony, that's available too, as copied above.

      For a fee. Which is perfectly alright - these "value added" services cost money.

      What? Not worth it? But you claim that it is "The most detailed story I've read about this." Sounds like t
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:22PM (#9960464)
    It wouldn't matter if it hit the road with Yugos, it would still get crushed. An unsafe, feather-weight car will lose to anything -- not just a hummer. Nice attempt to jab at large vehicles.
    • by letxa2000 (215841) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:26PM (#9960521)
      An unsafe, feather-weight car will lose to anything -- not just a hummer.

      True, including a wall if the vehicle is traveling at any speed. The problem here was not the minivan. The problem was un un-streetworthy vehicle that had to forego safety in an attempt to achieve efficiency. I'm sure the same vehicle traveling at 40mph that ran into a wall would have killed the driver just as effectively.

      This is more evidence of why we still use "inefficient" heavy vehicles. It's not just the efficiency of the vehicle that counts, but survivability in a crash.

    • by tommasz (36259) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:57PM (#9960951)
      I'm a volunteer firefighter and I've seen plenty of accidents, and you're totally correct. Whenever one vehicle outweighs the other, the heavier one usually wins. In a head-on, it's even worse. That solar car was about as light as you can get (possibly even lighter than a motorcycle) and its low ride height makes it hard to recognize in an emergency and might have (not enough detail in the articles) have caused it to run under the minivan on impact. Even a "minor" impact would have caused significant damage and trauma to the driver.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Solar powered cars are not designed for the streets and really should not be on them. They are designed for competition.
  • R E S P E C T? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by garcia (6573) * on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:22PM (#9960469) Homepage
    Any head on collision has serious risks for fatalities. It's sad that all the hard work of a student who likely had a bright and shining future had to have his life ended so young but I didn't see the need for the comment about Hummers sharing the roads...

    I have seen plenty of accidents with 15 passenger vans, two ton service vans, semis (which seem more common than Hummers), etc, that have just as bad (if not worse) impacts with other vehicles.
  • by i.r.id10t (595143) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:22PM (#9960470)
    After all, many of the most popular ones are banned [msn.com] from many roads in California and other states. Since its a MSN article, I''ll elaborate - they are popular because they are big enough to get the large truck for commercial use tax discount... which also happens to be the weight limit for restrictions on most residential streets in Californial (and other places).
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:23PM (#9960472) Homepage Journal
    "the vehicle lost control"

    What was the steering mechanism in that experimental car? Drive by wire? What failed? The story would more accurately have specified a collision of an "experimental steering" car, than a solar car, unless the steering was conventional.
    • by TigerNut (718742) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:51PM (#9960867) Homepage Journal
      I'm not familiar with the design of the car, but most likely the steering was just a wheel or tiller (like bicycle handlebars) - it doesn't have to be high-tech to be susceptible to sudden failure. It may be that the solar car was struck by a sudden wind gust, made more severe by the fact that he was following the team minivan (thus being subject to the turbulence that exists behind any big blunt object being moved through the air). If the solar car had the misfortune of being designed as a tricycle with one front wheel and two rear wheels, then it would have the same stability issues that eventually drove three-wheeled ATVs out of the marketplace. It's possible that the steering didn't have sufficient caster to be stable at speed, or under all combinations of skid angle. These are all things that might have been contributing factors to the loss of control, which is the main thing that caused the crash and resulting fatality. The fact that the solar car was struck by a minivan, or that the solar car wasn't designed to survive such a mishap, is kind of secondary. Having a steering and suspension geometry that is stable under all foreseen combinations of driver and road input should be a mandatory requirement for a vehicle being driven on public roads.

      At one point in my past I built and roadraced GT cars. The combination of slick race-compound tires (9" wide on a 2000 pound car), and the steering axis offset required to allow their use, meant that the steering effort was OK when the front tires weren't sliding, and the caster would re-center the steering. But under conditions where the car was going sideways beyond a certain limit, the steering would drive itself to lock unless you manually wrestled it back to center. Not for the faint of heart or puny forearm development.

  • Sad, sad day. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tr0mBoNe- (708581) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:24PM (#9960491) Homepage Journal
    I am good friends with some of the designers of that car. Hell... I even helped carry the solar panels into the conference building in Scarbrough in January where I met them. It is truly tragic, and my heart goes out to them. That is the problem with this kind of tragedy... this car was designed for racing and not highway travel competing for road space with Cadillacs.

    Rest in peace Andrew, and keep them strong Raja.
  • NHTSA (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Iberian (533067)
    The problem has nothing to do with the power source, but all to do with the structural design developed to increase vehicle range. If solar vehicles cannot be made to pass the same crash tests as all other vehicles then perhaps we can convert the carpool lanes into solar lanes. Obviously this will have to wait until oil hits 100 a barrel and people start buying solar powered cars.
  • by phyruxus (72649) <[moc.oohay] [ta] [knildnapmuj]> on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:25PM (#9960504) Homepage Journal
    This kid died a hero. He lost his life as a test pilot, and in a vehicle design that is the very image of progess and green compliance.

    He may not have been returning from orbit, or travelled at supersonic speed. But his shadow will always be a mile long.

    • by servognome (738846) on Friday August 13, 2004 @02:04PM (#9961045)
      He died in pursuit of knowledge, but calling him a hero is a bit much. It was tragic, and hopefully those testing solar powered cars will learn from the tragedy so it never happens again.
      Simpson's quote:
      Homer: That Timmy is a real hero!
      Lisa: How do you mean, Dad?
      Homer: Well, he fell down a well, and... he can't get out.
      Lisa: How does that make him a hero?
      Homer: Well, that's more than you did!
      • perhaps (Score:3, Insightful)

        by phyruxus (72649)
        While your use of a simpson's quote does bring your viewpoint into sharp focus for me, I have to disagree; falling into a well isn't the same as dying while testing an XV. The loss of a young life is a tragedy; that loss, while in pursuit of something which is for the good of all people, to me, that counts as heroism. Maybe not running-into-a-burning-skyscraper heroism, or jumping-on-the-live-grenade heroism, but the kid *died*. "Martyr for alternative energy" doesn't capture it for me, even if it's more
  • WTF?!? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dr. Bent (533421) <ben AT int DOT com> on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:25PM (#9960505) Homepage
    this will be a problem as more efficient, lighter cars share the road with Hummers.

    Sure, lets blame the big, bad, SUV because your car is unsafe. I realize that the Hummer is the mortal enemy of solar car advoates everywhere but how is this possibly relevant? If you follow that logic we should ban Semi-trucks from the road as well. We've got to make it safe for experimental solar car vehicles, right?

    Gimme a break. This is a tragedy, and you're trying to spin in into an anti-SUV infomercial.
    • Re:WTF?!? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gurps_npc (621217) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:34PM (#9960632) Homepage
      Semi-trucks are in fact SAFER than the hummer.

      You need a better license, more inspections, a better driving record.

      And the legal requirements for making a semi-truck require it to be built far safer.

      One of the problems with Hummers, unlike Semi-trucks, is that they have high bumpers. These bumpers sometimes start ABOVE the bumber/hood of a small vehicle.

      Semi-trucks are legally required to have lower bumpers that alway make contact with the small car bumpers.

      • Re:WTF?!? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by QuantumRiff (120817) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:50PM (#9960855)
        But of course, if you have glaucoma, a Stroke, resperatory problems, and are a 5'1" old lady that can't see over the dash, you can leagaly drive a RV the same size as a semi, without all those inspections and special licensing and training. And a semi is articulated (axis point in the middle) so it can turn easier than an RV. I always feel safe around truck drivers. Its the old folks driving the Huge RV's that scare the Shit out of me!!
    • Re:WTF?!? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by clintp (5169) on Friday August 13, 2004 @02:18PM (#9961229)
      this will be a problem as more efficient, lighter cars share the road with Hummers.
      Sure, lets blame the big, bad, SUV because your car is unsafe.
      I agree. If the weight of safety cages, etc.. make solar powered cars impractical then they're impractical. Suck it up and figure out how to drive a heavy, safe car with solar power, and don't set your sights on highway driving till ya do. Continue making toy "carts" suitable for circular tracks, and practice on rural dirt roads and dry lakebeds.

      Also, the summary writer was political trolling. There was no SUV involved, a "minivan" is hardly an SUV. And striking any lightweight, cheap car at highway speeds would have ripped through this solar "car" and likely killed the driver.

      And about the car. The specs seem to have been pulled from the site, but the Internet Wayback Machine pulled this page: http://web.archive.org/web/20040214072418/www.blue skysolar.utoronto.ca/Car_Inside.html. (I'm sure this'll get pulled as well before the legal mess ensues.)

      "Chassis: Composed of hollow aluminium tubes with sides only slightly thicker than a pop can." They're bragging about this? And running it on a highway?

      Also from the IWM:
      Blue Sky was also presented with the American Solar Challenge Safety Award for outstanding safety practices during the competition [2003 American Solar Challenge!]
      A little premature, I think.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:25PM (#9960513)
    Just reposting a comment that got my goat on UW's general discussion board requarding this.

    > > Solar cars from five university teams will be on display later today
    > > at the Student Life Centre. The appearanace is part of the _Canadian
    > > Solar Tour,_ an event sponsored by the Government of Ontario, and VIA
    > > RAIL Canada. The cars are travelling from Windsor to Quebec, and will ...
    > Apparently one of the cars didn't make it here. That must put a damper on
    > the whole event.

    And perhaps put a few people back in touch with reality?

    Every time I see these solar car things, I'm reminded of the saying
    "Little boys play with little toys, and big boys play with big toys.".

    Supposedly the purpose of all these events is to promote solar
    energy as a viable alternative to conventional energy sources.
    That's certainly an admirable goal, but the whole point seems
    to have been lost to the participants long ago.

    As an exercise for engineering students, designing and building
    such a vehicle can be a valuable experience, but solar energy
    is only a small part of the project, and it seems silly to me
    to think that these events, in any way but the most superficial,
    actually promote the practical use of solar energy.

    If that were the real goal, the projects would spend nearly all
    their time working on the energy part of the task. But instead
    nearly all the time is spent on making the projects look like
    solar energy is practical. i.e. they have to completely design
    and build the entire vehicle from the ground up, totally ignoring
    a hundred years of engineering that have already gone into modern
    passenger vehicles. Almost all the effort goes not into the
    solar aspect of the vehicle, but into designing something that will
    go faster and farther than other similarly designed vehicles.
    i.e. extreme streamlining, removing as much weight as possible,
    providing as little passenger and cargo space as possible, etc.
    It becomes a contest to see who can design the most energy-efficient
    vehicle, with solar power itself becoming the constant factor rather
    than the variable that they really should be trying to improve.

    If solar energy were the real goal, they would start with a
    standard passenger vehicle (a mini, or a truck, or anything between)
    and put 90% of the work into making that work with solar energy
    as the primary power supply. That would be a true demonstration
    of its practicality, and would put the experimentation back into
    solar energy research rather than into aerodynamics, etc.

    But instead, they spend most of the time reinventing the wheel,
    and in the process throwing out such things as passenger and
    cargo capacity, not to mention the safety and road-worthiness
    with which modern commercial vehicles are packed, and with which
    these toys are obviously not. I wonder why they are even allowed
    to drive on public roads (except as a parade float).

    In terms of energy efficiency, these vehicles are accompanied by
    several support vehicles, all conventionally fueled. The result
    is an expensive, slow, and unsafe vehicle that transports one person
    with no luggage, and burns ten times as much gasoline as would a
    small inexpensive car.

    In terms of promoting the practical use of solar energy,
    this project has just proven what a joke it always was.
    It's just unfortunate that it had to happen in the way it did,
    and we can only hope that it hasn't hurt its alleged goal too much.
    • by Madcapjack (635982) on Friday August 13, 2004 @03:41PM (#9962252)
      You are right, mostly. Solar vehicle competitions don't promote solar power as an alternative- its just a competition for lightest most aerodynamic vehicle possible. And that is fine for what it is. Solar power is wonderful, but there are two constraints: 1)there is a maximum amount of energy input available, which is actually quite low (there's a reason plants don't move (mostly), and that cows sitand and eat all day- its called the trophic pyramid) and 2)there is a serious efficiency problem in solar cells (for that matter plants lose 90% of energy in the process too).

      Nonetheless, large heavy vehicles on the road should be last resort, not a standard. And it is equally true that as long as big heavy vehicles are on the road smaller light-weight vehicles are going to be dangerous to drive- THIS IS OBVIOUS, and it annoys me to all hell that advocates of big vehicles think the solution is to drive bigger "safer" vehicles. The road need not be the spot for our national Darwinian drama. The road is not a place for an arms-race.

      Let's face it: the reasons people want bigger vehicles (for the most part) is because a)They think they're cool b)they think they're safer, or at least they think they make themselves feel safer, c)having an expensive SUV broadcasts their financial success (a mating call, no? -for the males of the species, primarily), d)because the SUV is an attractive option because it is largely functional (if wasteful) because of its size AND because it carries an attractive image of independence, ruggedness, sportiness, etc. (look at those SUV commercials of vehicles driving through the wilderness (a morally dubious thing to do (the destruction caused is more than negligible), but hella fun).

      The thing that we tree-huggers need to realize is that SUV's and other large vehicles actually serve a function in society, and the individuals who own/use them are acting rationally in the sphere of things that they think are important. HOWEVER, those things are the wrong things, the things that really aren't that important.

      Unfortunately, our human species is not well equipped to take the long view of things. In fact, we are exceedingly poor at doing so- and this makes evolutionary sense- although taking a limited long view is evolutionarily adaptive, focusing on the long view is not because our powers of prediction were/are still exceedingly poor- more important to see the tiger about to eat you than to wonder how we could set up the environment so that there wasn't any conflict between humans and tigers, so to speak.

      This is essentially a problem of "The Tragedy of the Commons", but in this case the Commons is not some field, but all of our planetary resources (including good air to breathe and fair weather), and each person's taking away of from the Commons, no matter how ridiculously abusive, is only a miniscule portion of that Commons. We, in fact, have a difficult time seeing the impact of our behaviour, or the scope of the situation. And because we do not see so clearly (and I mean see individually in everyday life) the impact of our behaviour, we do not feel compelled to act to change how things work- certainly not as compelled as we may feel to have the glorious feeling of bringing home that gorgeous SUV (I, like others, think that SUV's (minus the HUMMER) are often designed in a pleasing way). And because some of us are so enamoured with that vision of the good life, of independence, of manliness, of success, of Big Americanness (I am a proud American), and perhaps enamoured of actually having that good life (and I believe that it is probably true that a lot of anti-advocates of the SUV are simply suffering from jealousy because they cannot afford such a vehicle), yes, because of all these things, that many of us refuse to believe, sometimes consciously, but often unconsciously, what our scientists continue to tell us about the destruction we are causing, and the deep problems we are getting ourselves into. It is, in fact, a deep rabbit hole- and it is easier to fall than to climb

  • I'm wondering why the solar cars are always made lightweight.

    A heavier car, once in motion, takes no more power to keep in motion then a light weight car, right?

    The energy used to get a heavier car into motion, can be recaptured in the stopping of it.

    I suppose there is energy lost in the transfer of starting/stopping, but is that enough of a loss to make the cars unworkable?

  • Bikes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by isorox (205688) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:27PM (#9960542) Homepage Journal
    will be a problem as more efficient, lighter cars share the road with Hummers.???

    Dont know about america, but in the rest of the world we have 44 ton trucks, 3 ton vans, 2 ton cars, and 200lb bikes sharing the road, and we seem to cope pretty well.
    • Re:Bikes (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Mateito (746185) on Friday August 13, 2004 @02:22PM (#9961292) Homepage
      We also have 6 inch cocks.

      I know this sounds like a troll, but I have a valid point.

      People who drive large cars with the ability to control large cars usually are not the problem. The problem are people who drive large cars and lack either the ability or the personality to control such a large vehicle are the problem.

      In NSW, Australia, you can do your driving test on a 2 door 800c automatic suzuki, then go and jump behind the wheel of a hummer. Sorry, but that's just crazy. (I believe this is now under review, but its been under review for at least the last 20 years) Pilots have to retrain for each new model aircraft they manage, and similary there needs to be classes of vehicles based on transmission type, weight and size. Vans capable of carrying 10 passengers, even if not for commercial gain, should require testing. I get scared when I see a Mother with 10 kids (presumably not all her own) crawling unbelted around the car while she screams abuse at other drivers for every near-collision she's causing.

      The other is a physcological test. If "big car" is a compensation for "small dick". Yeah, rice rockets are a pain in the arse, but when the choice is between contending with 1 tonne of dickhead propelled missile and 4 tonnes of dickhead propelled missile, give me the mag-wheeled Mirage anyday.

      I'd also argue that people under 4'6" shouldn't be allowed to drive some of these big SUVs unless they are suitably modified. In jacking up the seat to see out the window means that they can't depress the brake in reflex time. That's just crazy. (Anybody who's driven between Turramurra and Gordon in the North of Sydney knows exactly the types I'm talking about). If little kids have to be over a height to ride a roller coster, people should have to be over a height limit to drive some vehicles. This isn't discrimination. Its public safety.

      (Note: I am pretty short myself. I can't ride any model Harley except the FatBoy because my feet aren't close enough to the ground!)

      I also agree that Hummers and their like shouldn't be allowed on certain roads. Note that some of the south-bound lanes on the Sydney Harbour Bridge aren't wide enough for the wheel-base of the Holden (Chevy) Suburban. The infrastructure of the city was never designed to cope with this sort of vehicle.

  • by callipygian-showsyst (631222) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:28PM (#9960563) Homepage
    One of the reasons people don't want to drive smaller, alternative fuel, or just plain efficient cars, is that these smaller cars don't stand a chance when hit by some women gabbing on the phone in her SUV!

    Maybe the real answer is to get these SUVs and minivans off the road, and establish weight and bumper-height limits for cars.

  • by larsoncc (461660) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:29PM (#9960570) Homepage
    This is a pretty tragic accident - and the article reminds me of one of those "safety first" videos that I had to watch during driver's ed.

    He may have fully lost control of the vehicle, but reading the article made it seem like the vehicle started to veer.

    In the snowier states, you're taught how to recover from a veering or fishtailing vehicle. Let off the acceleration, and straighten the wheel out. Make SMALL corrective maneuvers.

    It's very easy to get panicked in these situations - your car veers one direction, and you're tempted to veer the opposite way. Unfortunately, this often worsens the situation, as power steering is far more powerful than your instincts may "feel."

    Likewise, this was a pretty light vehicle.

    Regardless of how this happened, it's terrible to see. And serves as a reminder to keep ourselves alert and alive on the road.
  • Close to Home (Score:4, Informative)

    by barryfandango (627554) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:29PM (#9960572)

    The convoy was supposed to stop here at our company [comtekadvanced.com] this afternoon because we helped the McMaster University team build "Fireball II." I just found out this morning that today's stop, along with the rest of the tour had been called off due to the accident. Looks like it was a mechanical failure of some kind in U of T's vehicle, and what a tragedy. The engineering student who died was only 21.

    The tour was planned to coincide with the one year anniversary of the 2003 blackout, to remind people that we ought to be looking into alternative energy sources. These young engineers are really passionate about these projects and our thoughts are with them at what must be a really tough time.

  • by GraZZ (9716) * <jack@nosPAM.jackmaninov.ca> on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:48PM (#9960833) Homepage Journal
    I go to U of T and I know a few people on the Bluesky team (although not Andrew Frow), and while I mean no disrespect to grieving team members in this hard time, I think that this incident is just the latest of several that point to a deeper problem in the team's goals and leadership.

    As the CTV article stated, one of Bluesky's cars was T-boned just south of U of T campus two years ago. But also, at the end of last summer a pickup driven by a Bluesky member with their solar car in tow flipped somewhere in the northern states, resulting in a hospitilization.

    The fact that Bluesky is having an accident every year, to me, indicates that these people are perhaps being pushed a little too hard, and perhaps the cars are not being designed with the driver's safety in mind (and I'm not just talking about the durability of the vehical but also such things as the driver's visibilty of the road and reliability of his control systems).

    [This is a repost of an AC post I made; didn't realise I was logged out]
    • The fact that Bluesky is having an accident every year, to me, indicates that these people are perhaps being pushed a little too hard, and perhaps the cars are not being designed with the driver's safety in mind (and I'm not just talking about the durability of the vehical but also such things as the driver's visibilty of the road and reliability of his control systems).

      One of the Wright brothers died in an airplane crash.

      Astronauts have been killed.

      Those who push forward humanity's knowledge for the re
  • Some observations (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DumbSwede (521261) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:49PM (#9960847) Journal
    A few observations on many of the comments posted so far.

    As an out of control vehicle it could have has easily been hit by a truck as a Hummer and had the same outcome, perhaps even an impact with a small hybrid Prius would have had the same outcome (but been far more ironic).

    The need to sacrifice weight to gain performance obviously led to some bad design choices. That said, solar power contests should probably be split into 2 categories:
    1. No minimum weight, but only on closed courses.
    2. Well-defined minimum crash worthiness, minimum weight for vehicle, still require lead and chaser vehicles on public roads. Some well established roadworthiness test by some officiating board before vehicles are taken on public roads.

    Breakthroughs in Solar efficiency and conversion to actual horsepower are what this competition should motivate, not design of balsa wood enclosures to hurl down public highways.

    I feel for the team and student who lost his life. I'm sure they didn't think they were taking undue risks, but they probably were.

    I doubt this will have real long-term negative impact on Solar Power development. It's not like this out of control vehicle also took out a sideline of spectator Nuns. Nor is it hard to imagine the corrective action to keep this safe (as outlined above).

    • Re:Some observations (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MindStalker (22827)
      What I don't understand is why people havn't tried attaching solar panels to the top of a hybrid and rigging the system to be more battery dependant and only use gas as generator. How feasable is this?
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:52PM (#9960883)
    This is a big setback for solar power advocates,

    And just how is this a big setback for solar power advocates? Is every automobile accident with a regular car a setback for gasoline advocates? Are solar cars supposed to be accident free? Or all 21-year-olds excellent drivers (I know they think they are)?

    This is just an example of muddy thinking that doesn't belong on Slashdot.

    • by pclminion (145572) on Friday August 13, 2004 @02:22PM (#9961285)
      This is just an example of muddy thinking that doesn't belong on Slashdot.

      No, the thinking is crystal clear. When a massive vehicle collides with a puny, composite solar car, death is a certain result.

      Therefore, these massive vehicles will, in fact, deter the acceptance of solar technology. Solar cars by nature must be extremely lightweight, and nobody in their right mind would drive one on the same road as trucks and SUVs.

  • Linkage? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Shoten (260439) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:55PM (#9960924)
    This is a big setback for solar power advocates, especially as the blackout anniversary will pass with remedial legislation stranded in Congress.

    I don't see what the two have to do with each other. Was he carrying the sponsoring Senator/Congressman in the car with him? And I don't know that the anniversary has anything to do with the bill...in fact, I'd overwhelmingly prefer as few arbitrary deadlines as possible when legislators are working on laws that affect my life, thank you.
  • by Paulrothrock (685079) on Friday August 13, 2004 @02:00PM (#9960987) Homepage Journal
    Okay, so an experimental car made of fiberglass got crushed by a mini van. What does this have to do with Hummers?

    I'm as green as the next tree-hugging dirt worshipper, but I don't see how we can blame this on GM for making disgustingly huge wastes of resources or on the people who buy them. If this guy had been on a bike, would this have made it to the front page? Of course not.

    Let's stow the "Hummers are wasteful" arguments and just recognize that a brave person lost their life in an experimental vehicle. Let's save these arguments for a topic where it actually matters.

  • Inherent Risk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ca1v1n (135902) <snook.guanotronic@com> on Friday August 13, 2004 @02:00PM (#9960988)
    Solar Cars, due to the extremely low amount of energy available to them, have to be extraordinarily light. When I was in the 2001 American Solar Challenge, there were cars that only weighed 2 1/2 times their driver. This is with metal roll cages on the inside. I know people are experimenting with full-chassis composite construction, which will make the cars even lighter. While it's true that F1 cars all have composite roll bars because of their strength, the problem is simply a matter of inertia. When a 1000 kg car hits a 2000 kg truck head-on, it's bad for the car, but when a 160 kg car with an 80 kg driver hits a 2000 kg truck head on, it's absolutely devastating, no matter how strong the material is holding it together.

    I'm curious to see how this will affect solar racing rules. It's not like they're going to require crash testing of your half million dollar prototype that you bring to the race. Personally, I think there's probably a lot more room to be stricter with accident avoidance stuff, like making sure your steering and suspension is REALLY secure. My team nearly lost its car to a suspension failure, while going 65 on an interstate down a hill towards a bridge over a very deep chasm. The driver kept it kinda under control, but we got lucky. Turns out there was nothing inherently wrong with our design, aside from the fact that it wasn't sufficiently redundant to resist the force of miniscule human error in construction, followed by 1000 miles of road wear. Point is, wheels just don't fall off of modern production automobiles, but things like that happen with experimental prototypes.

    On a personal note, driving a solar car that I built myself was one of the greatest thrills of my life. I was too big to drive our team's car with the top on, but even taking it around the parking lot on battery power was a great thrill. I can't imagine how taking that out on the road feels, but I imagine it compensates somewhat for the very real danger that exists whenever people strap themselves into unorthodox moving objects for the sake of enhancing the body of human knowledge. Whether it's a solar car developed and built by college students or a multi-billion dollar space shuttle designed by one of the largest engineering teams ever assembled, there is no substitute for experience, as NASA has tragically learned twice.

    If anyone who knew Andrew is reading this, I hope you realize that he took a risk in pursuit of something greater than himself, for the benefit of everything on Earth.
  • by ikeleib (125180) on Friday August 13, 2004 @02:46PM (#9961566) Homepage
    Not having worked amoungst a team of students in an effort like this makes it difficult to put in perspective. I have been in a similar group, not making solar cars, but solar houses. The students involved in the project I was involved with, and I imagine this one, gave their all to the project. It was their life. They worked sun up to sun up on the project under grueling conditions while still going to school. They were motivated by the hands on learning experience, the opportunity to educate others, the opportunity to be part of something constructive, but mostly their desire to create a world different from the one they live in today. Nobody on our team got seriously hurt. It seems like a miracle in retrospect. Working on the team was one of the best and most amazing experiences of my life. The team was tight knit; we spent seemingly every waking hour together. I just can't imagine the affect an accident like this has on the rest of the team. It must be utterly heartbreaking. The team has my deepest sympathy.

    For those that debate the safety of the car design, the wisdom of highway regulations and current practices, keep in mind that this group isn't a company with vast resources trying to market a solar car. This is not the finished product boing foisted on you to buy. This is an exhibition and competition car. It's an experiment made by students. They do it because they love it.
  • by alizard (107678) <alizard@@@ecis...com> on Friday August 13, 2004 @03:33PM (#9962158) Homepage
    The vehicle's design is not really street-safe - this will be a problem as more efficient, lighter cars share the road with Hummers.

    It sucks that the kid died, but this should be a setback for solar-powered motor vehicle on highways. The safety problems are very probably unsolvable. Bicycles have been on the roads for over a century and motorcycles for almost as long. No technological solution for what happens when car meets bike that keeps the bike or the rider intact has been found. This suggests to me that there isn't one. If a road-safe solar vehicle can't be built, there is no point in pursuing this technology as more than a dangerous hobby any further.

    More to the point, this is NOT an environmental solution. Safety issues aside, every barrel of oil that is conserved by the industrialized countries will be burned by an industrializing Third World, unless carbon-neutral solutions to replace fossil fuel cheaper than the current ones can be found. Therefore, conservation-based approaches to either global warming or running out of oil are uniformly unworkable, no matter how cool the technologies are.

    We need energy replacement, not energy conservation.

    The place for solar cells is in orbital solar arrays as part of a solar power satellite [nasa.gov] network. Power availablilty 24/7/365, no concerns about weather, and no SUV will ever run into a cell array and take it offline. However, this is better adapted as a solution for central station power generation facilities.

    The solution for motor vehicle power? Switch to diesel engines and grow crude oil in energy farms. Even food-grain crop based biodiesel is comparable to price to bin Laden's Finest Middle East oil product, and algae-based biomass grown as part of sewage treatment promises to be quite a bit cheaper than growing it from fuel crops. [unh.edu]

    For more discussion of the implications of this, check my sig.

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