As headlines go, “MIT students design solar car prototype” isn’t exactly arresting. It seems that those words have been headlining press releases about once a week for the last decade, maybe two.

The press release we received earlier this month was slightly more interesting, in that this particular Institute of Technology isn’t in Massachusetts, but Manipal, in southwest India. But as we read a bit more, it became even more compelling.

The prototype is called the SERVe, for Solar Electric Road Vehicle, and it’s a joint project of Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal University, and Tata Power Solar, India’s largest solar company. The latter is part of the same parent company that now owns Jaguar Land Rover and other transportation businesses, though those companies weren’t involved in this project.

The car looks like the future as envisioned in 1985, but since it’s more proof-of-concept than concept car, the aesthetics can be forgiven. The solar panels that cover the roof are a custom-curved design developed with Tata Solar, and they keep the car reasonably aerodynamic. The battery and power system are handled by a student-programmed Raspberry Pi (a single-board computer popular with hobbyists), and the car’s body is a fiberglass-reinforced plastic over steel tubing. Weighing in at 1300 pounds — including its Li-ion batteries — the two-seater has a range of more than 90 miles. Top speed is about 37mph, and its normal cruising speed is half that, which is slow but won’t put much strain on the chain-drive transmission.

In other words, Tata’s not about to slap the Jaguar emblem on this thing. But what makes this project compelling is that, unlike students at the other MIT and a hundred other universities, these students weren’t trying to build a solar vehicle that could travel the fastest, or the farthest, or used some heretofore-impossible technology. They were trying to build a solar car that not only worked, but one that could be commercially viable.

And once we figure out that problem with solar-powered vehicles, we’ll be on that road for good.

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