Film sequel catches up on lives of acclaimed solar car team

2017/05/26 15:27:27
Photo courtesy of Joint Entertainment International Inc.

Photo courtesy of Joint Entertainment International Inc.

By Christie Chen, CNA staff reporter

A sequel to the 2006 documentary "For More Sun" (夢想無限) was released in Taiwan on May 19, highlighting the achievements of a university professor and some of the students who had built a solar vehicle from scratch to compete in a solar car race in Australia in 2005.

"For More Sun II" (夢想續航) tracks the lives of 10 of the students a decade after the race and looks at the work of their professor Cheng Jung-ho (鄭榮和), who is still teaching mechanical engineering at National Taiwan University (NTU), the country's top school in Taipei.

The 100-minute documentary sequel, produced by a local company Joint Entertainment International Inc., details how Cheng's hands-on teaching has influenced the often unconventional but successful careers of some of his students.

In 2005, Cheng was scrambling to raise money for some of his students to participate in the 3,000-kilometer World Solar Challenge in Australia when he met James Liu (劉嘉明), president of Joint Entertainment International Inc., through mutual friends.

Moved by the dedication of the professor and his students, Liu invited director Lee Jong-wang (李中旺) to film the construction of the solar car and the activities of the NTU team at the race.

The NTU students and the solar car they built, called FORMOSUN-III, finished fifth among the 22 teams in the race, ahead of a team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The documentary "For More Sun" was released in 2006 to acclaim in Taiwan cinemas.

Ten years later, director Lee Chia-hua (李家驊) took up the baton and sought out Cheng and 10 of the NTU team members to make the sequel, which was shot in Taiwan and the United States over a 20-month period.


[Cheng Jung-ho (left); photo courtesy of Joint Entertainment International Inc.]

Some of the team members are working overseas at prominent auto companies such as Porsche and Tesla Inc., while others are playing important roles in Taiwan's industrial sector.

Whatever their field of work, however, they all give credit to the unique experience they gained as members of the 2005 solar car team.

Team captain Kevin Chang (張智凱) is now head of an advanced research and development center at Giant Taiwan Co., one of the world's largest manufacturers of bicycles, including carbon fiber models.

While many of his peers were seeking jobs in the lucrative semiconductor sector after graduation, Chang said, he made a "bold decision" to work in a traditional industry company, making carbon fiber bike frames.

"When people heard that, they all said: 'You've got a PhD degree and you're working at Giant, to repair bikes?'" he relates in the documentary.

His job, however, requires more than repair skills. Adopting the simulation analysis techniques he learned when he was making solar cars, Chang has been able to design safer bicycles and shorten the time it takes to build them at Giant, which is based in Taichung, central Taiwan.

"What many people think about is the kind of jobs that would bring a high income," he says. "I'll do this and that, and then it'll be plain sailing afterwards. But the job you're doing, would it really be worth doing in five or 10 years?"


[Kevin Chang; photo courtesy of Joint Entertainment International Inc.]

The solar car experience has also carried over into the work of another team member, Mort Lin (林松慶), who now heads the powertrain department at Taiwan-based smartscooter maker Gogoro Inc.

In an interview with CNA, Lin said he learned from Professor Cheng how to "make things from scratch," using minimal resources and manpower.

That training became a valuable asset when he began building laboratories and production lines for Gogoro, a startup company, Lin said.

Building a solar car also prepared him to design an energy efficient vehicle.

Solar panels do not generate a lot of power, so for a solar car to run fast, far and steady, the engineering technology must be top notch, Lin said.


[Mort Lin]

Meanwhile, Yu Chen-yen (游振彥) has been working in the U.S. auto industry, first at Tesla Inc. and now at SF Motors, but says he misses the camaraderie of the NTU solar car team.

"Since I started working, I've been searching for that same feeling of everyone pulling together as a team," he told CNA.

In the documentary, he raises the issue of the brain drain from Taiwan to places like Silicon Valley in the United States.

"These people are like big trees," he says. "Taiwan has to offer them fertile soil. Franky, it's not just about money. It's the stage."


[Yu Chen-yen; photo courtesy of Joint Entertainment International Inc.]

Outside the auto industry, the success of the solar car team members has been no less remarkable.

Ming Lin (林明賢) is deputy manager of R&D at Booster Machine Co., an automated equipment provider that specializes in robotic deburring, grinding and polishing.

He told CNA that after he graduated from university, he found a job at a manufacturing company, but quickly discovered that he was not cut out for that work.

"Working in the electronics industry could easily leave you isolated," he said. "In the end, you'd have no emotional attachment to the products you're making."

Ming Lin later teamed up with a friend to start Booster Machine, an undertaking which he described as difficult but worthwhile.

"I'm simply rebellious," he said, referring his inclination for tough challenges.

He said he likes to come up with new ideas and create new products and he dreams that "one day our products will soar into the sky."


[Ming Lin]


[Ming Lin; photo courtesy of Joint Entertainment International Inc.]

At the foundation of those aspirations and achievements of the young innovators in the documentary is Professor Cheng, 61, who has been teaching at NTU's Department of Mechanical Engineering for the past 26 years.

He is described by past students as a strict disciplinarian with an entrepreneurial spirit and a sometimes short temper.

Over the years, Cheng and his students have built gliders, light aircraft, solar and electric cars, fuel cell-powered locomotives and smart electric vehicles -- all from scratch.

He told CNA that while higher education institutions in Taiwan are focused on publishing a lot of academic papers, he believes in the value and importance of engineering and "building things with your own hands."

"Taiwanese students study harder than American students," he said. "But why is it that after four years of university, our students are servicing machinery and doing manufacturing jobs, while American students are designing cars, airplanes, rockets and artificial satellites? I think it's because we lack practical engineering experience."


[Cheng Jung-ho]


[Cheng Jung-ho]

The director of "For More Sun II" said he hopes that the documentary will inspire students to follow their hearts, "go their own way, and do what they want in life."

Joint Entertainment's James Liu, meanwhile, hopes the film reaches two main groups of people -- dedicated teachers who feel like "lone birds" and parents who care about their children's future.

The message for parents is that "you should let your children do what they are good at so they can do it well," Liu said.

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