After installing the Phase II prototype parking lot, we realized that some improvements could be made to the SR2 panel design. We knew we wanted to increase the solar cell coverage, since SR2 had only 55-percent surface coverage. We decided that if we used edge connectors, we could eliminate the mounting holes which were taking up needed real estate on the panels. This change increased our solar cell coverage by 25-percent. The edge connector also makes the panels simpler to install.
While SR2 had heating elements and the LED intensity could be increased or decreased, it was all done manually. SR3 was the first model to automate this process. Temperature sensors and a light sensor were added. The onboard microprocessor monitored the temperature sensors and activated the heaters as needed. It also monitored the light sensor and adjusted the LED intensity accordingly.
November of 2015 brought two major announcements: The arrival of our new model SR3 and the beginning of a third USDOT contract Phase IIB.
This contract was to fund additional testing desired by the USDOT. We began work on that while working to manufacture SR3 panels. The first panels were to be installed in our own hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho at our Town Square.
In February of 2016, we flew to Boise to meet with many professors and administrators at Boise State University. They had invited us to come talk about a possible pilot project there, once our SR3 panels were available. We visited with Idaho State Senator Shawn Keogh at the Capital Building.
In the same month, we hosted teams from both the University of Idaho and from MODOT (Missouri DOT). Both were interested in pilot installations.
In March, we went to Missouri and Scott spoke at their Transportation Engineers Association Conference. We met with various members of the MoDOT team and scouted possible locations with them for a pilot project.
After negotiations, summer brought the announcement that MODOT would be the next pilot project on our queue. The selected site was a rest stop on Route 66. This led to a flurry of excitement and too much press to mention. Some of our favorites were Upworthy, Architectural Digest and Tony Robbin’s blog.
A fun discovery was that a video game called Forge of Empires had added Solar Roadways to their game in their “future” section.
Also in March, articles came out in National Geographic and Accu Weather.
We were contacted by the Abell Foundation, a foundation which supports the City of Baltimore. They also wanted a pilot project at the Inner Harbor (pictured here) and became the third project on our queue. We flew to Baltimore in July to meet with Abell Foundation staff, City of Baltimore staff and Maryland DOT staff.
In August, we broke ground on the proposed site of our first public pilot project in Sandpoint, Idaho while we continued to make the needed panels.
That month, we also flew to San Francisco to meet with Indiegogo as they wanted to film us meeting with their staff.
The Horror Show (our perspective!)
Making the new SR3 panels with our own equipment was a much more difficult task than we anticipated. At first, there was solar cell breakage, bubbles in the laminate, and the panels would fail in various ways. Sometimes everything worked except a few LEDs. Sometimes the LEDs were perfect but the solar wouldn’t work, etc. Every time a panel failed that represented a big financial loss to us.
We were afraid to set a firm date for the installation due to these problems, but we had people wanting to fly in from other states to be there for the historical grand opening. The City of Sandpoint had invited press and wanted us to hold a Press Conference. They needed a date to be set. Reluctantly, we agreed to install on September 30 and worked around the clock to prepare.
Mark Dixon of YERT flew in a few days in advance to film our preparation for his documentary. The night before the Big Reveal, we knew that we had no choice but to put multiple panels in our lamination oven if we were going to make it. Previously we had only put in one, two or three panels. We attempted to make over 20 panels at once and it was disastrous. Our lamination oven has three heaters and two fans: it acts like a giant convection oven. Unbeknownst to us, one of the fans and one of the heaters failed during the night. This doubled the amount of “cook” time. The panels were under heavy vacuum the entire time to pull air bubbles out of the melting laminate. This extended time allowed some of the circuit boards to be pulled apart, some of the parts to be pulled off of the circuit boards, etc. When it was all over, we had only 11 working panels out of 30.
The City wanted us to install them anyway and it took until October 2 to get the panels installed. We grouped the working panels in the middle and put the bad panels around the perimeter so we could at least show some pretty lights in the middle.
We look back on that week as the lowest point in our journey (we affectionately refer to it as “the horror show”), but as you can see from this picture, we were surrounded by nothing but support that day. People were very kind, reminding us that failure is part of the journey and we would learn from it. We did indeed learn many things from it and the most important was to never again set an installation date before all of the panels are ready!
Although we considered the installation a failure, some of the functionality worked and it did actually constitute the first public pilot installation of Solar Road Panels. The press was mostly kind and emphasized that achievement. We were happy for coverage from Inc., KREM2 News, Engaget, Business Insider, CBS News, Idaho Conservation League and others.
We promised the City of Sandpoint that we would install replacement panels at our own expense. Much of the rest of that year was taken over with a very slow painstaking approach to making those panel replacements with new manufacturing methods. We also installed 6 panels by our door at our Headquarters where we could watch them carefully and make sure all was well before putting them at the Town Square.
Scott and Julie agreed to two radio interviews. One was with Building a Greener Idaho and the other was with Yale Climate Connections.
We went to California again to visit Indiegogo as they wanted to talk about creating a short documentary about us.
Finally, in February of 2017, we replaced the panels at the Town Square and it felt so good to see all thirty panels working properly.
We were invited to attend ConExpo in Las Vegas. It’s North America’s largest construction trade show and only happens once every three years. They wanted us to speak, create a Solar Road Panel display in their Tech Experience exhibit, and do a radio interview. We agreed and it was a wonderful experience. We had a steady stream of visitors the whole week from all over the world. Scott was honored to speak along with other terrific speakers in the line up such as Dirty Job’s Mike Rowe and the Kelly astronaut brothers.
The next month, a gentleman we had met at ConExpo flew to Idaho from South Korea to talk about bringing Solar Road Panels to his country.
In April, National Geographic sent a film crew to film us for a short documentary, which was released in June as part of their Chasing Genius series.
In May, we traveled to Marquette University in Wisconsin to collaborate with engineers there who were to be part of our USDOT Phase IIB research and testing.
We also flew to Denver that month for an awards ceremony. We had been chosen as a finalist by the CODOT for their RoadX Bicycle and Pedestrian Challenge. We had created a Solar Roadways adjunct technology which we’ll use as an additional safety feature. We won $75,000 as part of that award.
In June, Scott spoke to the Society of Professional Engineers in Idaho.
In August, we won an award by Glass Magazine together with Hartung Glass who we were collaborating with at that time.
In September, a company interested in manufacturing Solar Road Panels brought us to Austria to see their proposed site. We continue to be in conversation with them, but we have yet to negotiate a partnership.
In October, we went to Utah to meet with a group called SELECT who is working on dynamic charging for Electric Vehicles. They had already visited our headquarters and wanted us to see what they are working on. We continue on collaboration with them toward pairing their charger with our panels so that one day EVs can charge on clean sunshine while they drive.
As we travel, we enjoy connecting with organizations who are working to protect our planet and wildlife. In November, we met with Polar Bears International in Bozeman, Montana and later met with Vital Ground, who also works to protect bears and their habitat. Some of the Vital Ground team also came to see our pilot project in Sandpoint.
To close out 2017, Scott and team member Alyssa flew to Baltimore to set up a temporary panel installation (on Scott’s birthday!) at their visitor center, so their community could see the panels while waiting for their permanent installation at the Inner Harbor.
January of 2018 brought us to sunny Florida where Scott was a speaker for TeamFL and to Texas for a meeting with a large interested customer.
In February, we were chosen as finalist in Nation Swell Contest: Vehicle of Change sponsored by Toyota and we announced the signing of a contract with an interested manufacturer and distributor in Ohio.
In March, Scott and team member Alyssa traveled to the UAE where they presented Solar Roadways and met with many interested customers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
March visitors to Idaho included an engineer from Australia and students from U of I who came for a tour as part of one of their classes.
In April, we had planned a rare week off to celebrate our wedding anniversary in one of our favorite places: Tucson, AZ. Shortly before that, one of the producers of the TV show Innovation Nation contacted us. He said they had decided to create a bracket style tournament, pitting their sixteen favorite inventors from all of the years of their show against one another. And we were one of their favorites! The contest, called MoMadness in honor of their host Mo Rocca, was on Twitter and the winner would be the one who got the most popular votes. And it just happened to coincide with our trip to Arizona! Needless to say much of our trip was spent thanking and retweeting all of the supportive fans on Twitter who voted us up and up through the brackets. We were honored to be declared the winner.
We did manage a couple of business meetings in Arizona as well, including one at Arcosanti who had contacted us about an installation there. It was an awesome location and we all thought their outdoor stage (where they host a variety of entertainers) would make a beautiful venue for a pilot project.
When we returned, we released our new Moose Mascot, who had been created for us by the famous artist Marshall Vandruff. We named him Swoop because when we first conceptualized Solar Roadways, we kept saying, “Wow, this is going to solve so many of the world’s problems in one fell swoop!”
The rest of the year brought other awards, speaking engagements, press coverage and the like. Just a few highlights:
We had more visitors from South Korea and team of people from an Australian company interested in bringing Solar Roadways to Australia. We were not ready at the time but we are still in communication and hope to make both happen as soon as we get to mass production.
We were honored with press coverage from Wired, Entrepreneur and Forbes.
The Smithsonian contacted us about borrowing some of our panels for a display in New York. We were happy to close out the year by facilitating that and our panels were on display for some time at their The Road Ahead Exhibition.
We began to notice that the cables to some of our SR3 panels were beginning to show problems and we feared they would not continue to work to keep the heating elements going for the following winter. We had already told the City of Sandpoint that we would plan to always debut our newest models at their pilot site and thereby give the panels the “real world testing” to compliment the laboratory testing. We knew that we needed more robust cables for our next model SR4 and it was time to create the new model.