Written by Sarah Gerovac
After facing the cancellation of their first competition, Badger Solar Racing, an engineering student organization, recently competed for the first time, now excited to compete in many more.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the lifestyle of all college students, canceling, postponing, and restructuring events and activities critical to the college experience. Many events never returned in the same way.
Enter Badger Solar Racing, known as Badgerloop until Fall 2023. A group of UW-Madison engineering students first founded Badgerloop more than eight years ago in Summer 2015, just days after SpaceX and the Boeing Company announced the first Hyperloop Pod Competition. By January 2016, they designed prototypes for Design Weekend, their first Hyperloop competition. At its first competition, the team took third place out of 127 teams from around the world, just behind MIT and Delft of the Netherlands.
Badgerloop remained a competitive Hyperloop team until 2020, when the impact of COVID-19 caused the competition to be postponed indefinitely. With the subsequent return to campus the following year, the team faced a tough decision — shut down or try something new. But shutting down was not a decision they would accept.
In the Spring of 2021, the Badgerloop team joined the American Solar Challenge (ASC), a competition involving endurance racing of a solar powered car. Between Fall 2021 and Spring 2022, a group of undergraduates, including myself, with no experience building solar vehicles worked to design our own. We hoped to compete in the Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP) in Summer 2022, the qualifying race for the biannual ASC.
However, by Summer 2022, our slow progress forced us to withdraw from the competition. We realized we lacked the time to reach the “minimum viable product” goal of a car that could pass all pre-race inspection and drive by the competition date.
After another year of hard work, we finally reached competition on June 27th, 2023. We arrived in Kansas at FSGP 2023 with low expectations. After multiple long nights, working in the garage around the clock to complete the system integration and put the final touches on the car, we passed inspection!
“I was really just hoping to see the car driven once, so my hopes were well surpassed seeing the car get through dynamics testing and being able to get ninety-seven laps in during the race,” reminisced Cameron Johnson, a Senior in Computer Engineering on the Powertrain Team.
With each lap 2.5 miles long, the car drove over 200 miles throughout two days of racing, winning the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award at the end of the competition.
Brooke Ehle, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering and the fall 2023 Mechanical Director, pulled multiple all-nighters during the competition to get the car ready. Thinking back to the competition, she remembers the team, “sitting on the wall of the track watching our car finish its 97.5 miles for the day. We realized we not only met the goals we set for ourselves two years earlier – we crushed them. It was at this point where it hit that all the hard work and late nights finally paid off.”
Seeing the car in action came with an immense feeling of satisfaction for all the team members and marked a new chapter in the team’s history. It felt like the moment that we had really become a successful solar car team, rather than a Hyperloop team trying to find a new identity.
With a newfound confidence in our successful transition, we voted to change the name of our organization from Badgerloop to Badger Solar Racing (BSR). This change better represents our mission and the impact that this club has had on the learning experiences of engineering students at UW-Madison.
Mridhul Nair Baskaran, a junior in electrical engineering and fall 2023 Electrical Director explained, “you do not need any prior knowledge to be a contributing member to the team. You just need commitment and eagerness in learning to improve yourself and to develop the team.”
On the Electrical Team I learned many practical applications for engineering that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Baskaran highlights an important part of the process of learning new skills: “You get out what you put in.” The skills I’ve developed through BSR increase my competitive edge in the job market and I could not imagine a better way to put my academics into action.
After a successful season, both in the competition results and in the skills and relationships that members built, the team is excited to keep moving forward with the goal of qualifying for the 2024 ASC. As a member of BSR I have no doubt in our abilities and potential to continue developing skills and engineers. I encourage anyone looking to get real-world engineering experience outside of classes to join an organization like this. To the sun!