Solar Car team spotlight: Andrew Dickinson

Computer science student Andrew Dickinson is the race strategist on the solar car team.

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Andrew Dickinson Photo: Akhil Kantipuly, UM Solar Car

The U-M Solar Car Team began its 1,800-mile race across Australia in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge this past weekend. The challenge started at 8:30 a.m. Sunday (7 p.m. EDT Saturday) in Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory and ends in Adelaide, South Australia on October 15th.

Here’s a look into the world of Andrew Dickinson, computer science student and solar car race strategist.

“As a kid, my parents let me use the computer a lot more than they should have, but I certainly don’t think I’d be as fluent or really be who I am if they hadn’t. I spent a lot of time just tinkering; I’d go through the settings– well, how can I make this better for me? How can I make this machine do what I want? When I learned to code, it’s like that, but so much bigger. I could build something and the limit here is my imagination. Art has had this for awhile; you can paint a picture, it’s your design and also your product. In terms of engineering I think software is the first real thing that we’ve had where you can take this pure thought, push a button, and it’s in a million people’s hands. There’s nothing that software hasn’t reached out and touched in the modern world.

“My baby, so to speak, was my very first project on the team. Strat-Map, is an app which you can use on satellite internet since you can’t load Google maps in the Outback. It came out of this idea, what if we put a map in the vehicle? Let’s put some stuff on it like where the other cars are, candidate EOD (end of day) locations, the route, all the hazards, and suddenly you have this rich database of information visualized in a really nice way. I don’t know how previous teams got by without it.

“I’ve certainly made mistakes, no shortage of those. In the Outback, we need to be in a position where you can say, yeah, smash any of our devices, I’ll put the spare in and we can keep going. We have been given an opportunity to be the best in the world at something, and I don’t want to miss it. Being on a team that works this hard, it’s like, okay, I have to match this, I can’t be the weak link. This is the closest shot we’ve had, maybe ever. If we let our guard down, if we slip, then someone else will take that from us. The only way to avoid that is to push yourself as hard as you possibly can.

“Life only has meaning if you give it meaning, I’m not a believer in the alignment of the stars or anything, and it’s easy to slip into nihilism, but the only reason any of this means anything is if I think it does. If you don’t push yourself, none of it means anything. That’s scary, that’s not what I want, so I go out there, and try to make the best of every day so that I can make the most of tomorrow.”

Source: UM Solar Car Team’s social media, produced by Akhil Kantipuly, UM Solar Car Digital Media Coordinator