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China just unveiled a futuristic, sun-powered car that can basically drive itself — and it took just 5 months to develop

Tianjin solar car marks an exciting step toward the goal of a zero-pollution transportation system.

The Tianjin, China's first solar-powered car

Photo Credit: iStock

Last June, at the sixth World Intelligence Congress, a team in China unveiled the Tianjin solar car, touted as the country's first smart vehicle to be powered solely by the sun, marking an exciting step toward the goal of a zero-pollution transportation system.

While the Tianjin is not the first solar-powered car China has manufactured — Hanergy showed the Solar-R in 2016 — it is the first to be fueled purely by this type of energy since the Solar-R had a support system of a converter and a backup battery pack, as Electrek reported.

As exciting as the idea of a car run by the sun is, it isn't a new one. 

A vehicle widely recognized as the world's first solar car, the SunMobile, was introduced almost 70 years ago by William G. Cobb at GM's Powerama auto show in Chicago in 1955, but it was only 15 inches long. This left it a long way from solving the problem of pollution from transportation, which is the largest source of planet-warming pollution today, accounting for almost 30% in the United States alone. 

The Tianjin was developed in a mere five months by 42 companies and three universities, and features state-of-the-art technologies. The solar panels used to charge the car take up 87 square feet and, on a sunny day, can deliver an output power of 7.6 kilowatt-hours per day, according to Electrek reporting and CnEVPost

For reference, 7 kilowatt-hours is about what it takes to run essential items in your house for one hour. Most exciting of all, perhaps, is the fact that the car can eliminate 55 pounds of harmful carbon pollution for every 62 miles traveled.   

Due to the short amount of time in which it was developed, the Tianjin comes with some constraints, the biggest being that the maximum range achieved so far is only 47 miles. The maximum speed is also only about 49 mph.

Other specs for the solar car include seating for a driver plus three in the back, a touchscreen display and three buttons in place of a steering wheel, and level 4 autonomous driving. The car also has a battery pack with an energy density of 330 watt-hours per kilogram.

While these specs may not be that impressive when compared to those of other electric vehicles, they're very impressive, considering they're generated entirely from the sun's energy. 

At a minimum, the Tianjin provides proof of concept that vehicles can run entirely on power pulled from a free and natural source of clean energy.

Other companies are joining the solar surge with cars like the Lightyear O and the Aptera. While there are no set-in-stone release dates for any of these vehicles, the future of clean transportation seems sunny.

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