Solar Cars of the Future Pioneered by Midnight Sun Solar Design Team

October 19, 2017 Judy Warner



University of Waterloo, Midnight Sun Solar Team at World Solar Challenge (WSC)


Since the 1988-1989 academic year the University of Waterloo’s Midnight Sun solar team, under the guidance of faculty advisor Professor Gordon Savage, has been building and competing in the American Solar Challenge (ASC) and the World Solar Challenge (WSC). Each of these competitions are held alternately every other year. Running the helm of the electrical systems team are Minghou Ji (Engineering Manager), Yifei Li (Hardware Engineer) and Taiping Li (Lead Hardware Designer).



Minghou Ji, Engineering Manager, Midnight Sun Solar Team




Yifei Li, Hardware Engineer, Midnight Sun Solar Team




Taiping Li, Lead Hardware Designer, Midnight Sun Solar Team


Until now they, along with most solar teams, had been building challenger class solar vehicles that had 3 wheels and room only for a single driver. Now, Midnight Sun is facing the challenges of making a cruiser class vehicle--a far more complex vehicle, while they push the technology forward with a design that they hope will one day make solar cars feasible for consumers. They have been working on Midnight Sun 12 since 2016 and will be competing in ASC in 2018. They are in the early stages of CAD for body manufacturing and electrical designs are underway. Their short-term goal is to have a driveable car by December 2017.

They have several board designs which include a controller board, power management board, interface boards, multiple sensors and a critical battery management system to balance the voltages of 1300 cells that discharge at different rates. They have also designed a single daughter card to support all main control boards. Most of the boards they design are 2-4 layers and are relatively dense.



Controller Board Designed with Altium Designer


There are approximately 20 active members on the team at any given time. The University of Waterloo has a Cooperative Education model of schooling in which the students split time between in-class semesters and out-of-class semesters in internships at companies like Microsoft, Tesla, Intel, and Apple.

The University of Waterloo is recognized as a leader in science and engineering and successfully builds bridges between the academic environment and industry. A designer may design 10-15 boards a year, preparing them in very practical ways for the workforce they will enter.



Power Distribution Board Designed with Altium Designer


Curious about how students such as these experience Altium Designer while designing boards for such a demanding team program, I asked them what they found most helpful and useful. They said that they found it very easy to use and were up and running in as little as a week. Because team members are always transitioning on and off of the team, software that allows them to quickly onboard new team members is a huge benefit. They also like the unified design platform for ease of workflow, and also liked the BOM builder. Lastly, they said the 3D and integration to mechanical systems is a great help.

If you want to be inspired, I encourage you to visit the Midnight Sun website. There is no doubt in my mind that the next innovators of the near future will be passionate students like Minghao, Yifei and Taiping. Certainly, for all of us at Altium, there is no greater privilege than to put a PCB design tool in their hands that will help them continue to create amazing things like the Midnight Sun 12.


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About the Author

Judy Warner

Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry since 1984. She has a deep background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing with a focus on Mil/Aero applications in technical sales and marketing. She has been a blogger, writer, contributor and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, The PCB Magazine, The PCB Design Magazine, PDCF&A and IEEE Microwave Magazine and is an active member of multiple IPC Designers Council chapters. In March 2017, Warner became the Director of Community Engagement for Altium and was immediately tasked with the launch of Altium’s monthly On Track Newsletter. She was also instrumental in launching AltiumLive 2017: Annual PCB Design Summit in San Diego and Munich, a newly founded annual Altium User Conference. Her passion is providing resources, supporting and advocating for PCB Designers around the world and acting as brand ambassador for Altium.

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