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Looking back at EcoCAR Finals 2010, it’s easy to see a school that placed very well, won lots of events, took home awards and overall, excelled at competition. But often, the number and rank of awards doesn’t tell the whole story. One team who is an example of that is North Carolina State University (NCSU).  Before going on, I’ll provide some background.

NCSU is new to the Advanced Vehicle Technology competitions and until EcoCAR, they hadn’t taken on anything with this scope and complexity. It is very easy to fall behind and initially NCSU did just that. Some of the pitfalls happened to more experienced teams, but to a lesser degree. For example, students might spend an exorbitant amount of time on one section of a report only to fall short in another section. Prioritizing workloads has proven very difficult and is unquestionably part of the EcoCAR learning experience. It helps young engineers get a sense of how much work it takes to accomplish a given task and where tradeoffs between time and resources should be made. We could see NCSU’s growing experience levels reflected in their reports but there isn’t any downtime in EcoCAR, so if a team falls behind it’s tough to catch up.  Nevertheless, NCSU forged on.  At the Year 1 competition finals in Toronto, they were short on staff with two students giving every engineering and outreach presentation. They finished 16th.  However, don’t let that figure fool you. Those two students were key to the team’s turn around in Year 2.

So how did NCSU do it? I’m sure there were many factors, but NCSU has some key strengths.  I’ll qualify these observations by stating that as an organizer we only see the teams a few times a year so I’m sure NCSU has many more strengths than I am about to mention. On our first visit to NCSU, we were tasked to inspect facilities which went smoothly. After, we were taken on a university tour and what we saw at the university was very encouraging. It was clear NCSU knew how to build stuff.  Labs and fabrication shops were buzzing with activity. Students were working on Formula SAE as well as other projects.  There were several completed vehicles from past years displaying high levels of workmanship. We left with a good feeling about them. Sure, they may have been overwhelmed by the initial pace of EcoCAR but we guessed when it came time to build their car, they would know how to get it done.

The next strength and probably the most critical were the people and culture that NCSU brought to competition. In Year 1, Ali Seyam and Abram Harder were co-team leaders and showed great strength by tackling so many presentations and work themselves. Most teams have students specialized in respective areas who then, give presentations on those topics. NCSU did not and today, Ali and Abram are probably some of the most knowledgeable and experience students in the EcoCAR program.

Ali and Abram both started graduate school and continued to lead their team into the competition’s second year.  This brought critical continuity and experience to the NCSU team.  I’m not exactly sure what those two did differently in the second year but it worked. They put together a well-rounded team representing multiple engineering disciplines. The team finished the control system and design development that they did not complete in Year 1 in addition to all of the Year 2 work.  Instead of bringing the smallest team, they brought one of the largest teams to competition and worked very hard to get their vehicle through the safety tech inspection and then into events.  Things didn’t all go their way. Their car was too heavy requiring them to remove some non-essential parts and they couldn’t get their engine/generator to work properly.  They had to make some hard decisions. Work on their engine longer and risk running out of time to drive (their vehicle propels itself electrically and can run on battery power for a considerable distance)? Or run without the engine/generator which would limit them in some events but let them earn points in dynamic events?

Their team leadership showed excellent focus and an understanding of the overall competition strategy that one would typically expect of a veteran team. They chose the second option which I think all parties involved agreed was a smart move.  Their decision meant a few things: they couldn’t finish the emissions and energy consumption event (the most points of all dynamic events) and they took a penalty for the vehicle not running as intended. They knew they were going to lose points, but not as many as if they did not get their car through safety tech inspections in time.  Still, the team was upbeat as ever. They didn’t let this get them down one bit. Organizer after organizer remarked how pleasant they were to work with and how they seemed to handle adversity with a fantastic attitude.

In Year 2 NCSU earned 7th place and the award for most improved team.  However, that honor can’t capture what it took to get where they are today.  My former team at San Diego State University had similar issues and also did poorly in the first year of EcoCAR’s predecessor, Challenge X. We also climbed to the same exact same places as NCSU in the first 2 years of EcoCAR.  I can personally relate to the challenges and hard work it takes to get from where they were to where they are now.  Back to my original point – at a glance 7th place and an award for improvement might not stand out. However, the true story is the one behind the scenes.  NCSU has shown an outstanding work ethic and attitude that not only makes them great to work with but should help the team achieve even more success in Year 3.  They have shown an outstanding ability to bounce back from hardship, learn from mistakes, and apply their experience in the real world for real improvement. That type of positive environment is ideal to inspire and cultivate the next generation of engineers to lead our nation and world towards a future of sustainable mobility. And in the end, that’s why we are all here.

-Contributed by Frank Falcone, a vehicle systems engineer for Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition program.

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Looking to talk with the Year Two EcoCAR winners Mississippi State, Virginia Tech and Penn State? You’ve come to the right place. Click Here beginning at 3 p.m. ET to join the discussion!

How did the teams stay ahead of the competition? What was the most challenging aspect of putting their car through inspections at GM’s Desert Proving Grounds? Hardest test? How has this judging round changed the direction of their vehicle? What are the main goals and milestones in Year Three? Bring your questions! It’s an open forum and we hope you can join us today.

It’s official! Today Mississippi State earned the highest score of 844 out of a possible 1000 points and placed first in the 2010 EcoCAR Year Two Finals in San Diego this morning!  Their exceptionally designed extended-range electric (EREV) vehicle utilizes biodiesel, UQM electric motors, and a battery pack provided by A123 Systems.  Huge congratulations are also due to second-place winner Virginia Technological Institute, and third-place winner Pennsylvania State University.

Mississippi State University's EcoCAR team accepts top honors at San Diego House of Blues today

“I’m really glad to see that all our hard work and dedication paid off in the end,” said Ryan Williams, mechanical team leader for Mississippi State’s team. “Being in a competition of this caliber is an honor in itself, and we are thrilled to be a part of it. The competition is really stiff.”

“I am unbelievably proud of these young people,” said Dr. Marshall Molen, Faculty Advisor for the Mississippi State team. “The professionalism they have demonstrated and the engineering aptitude they showed during the competition clearly distinguishes them from the other teams, it’s not a surprise that they have excelled to where they are today.”

During the awards ceremony, Karl Strake, VP for Global Development at General Motors also addressed the teams. “When I look at the team members during this competition, I see passion in their eyes,” said Strake. “That is what we need in this industry, and for the future of automobiles.

Right after the ceremony at San Diego’s House of Blues, we grabbed MSU team member Thomas Goddette to get his reaction to taking the top prize:

Green Garage: It’s been a long two weeks. Pick three words to describe how you’re feeling right now.

Thomas Goddette: “Excited. Relieved. Tired.”

GG: What’s going to happen in the next 24 hours?

TG: “We’re all going to crash, but there may be some celebrating later.”

GG: You’ve conquered this year. What’s next? How will you do it again?

TG: “The great thing about Yuma was that we were able to build and test vehicle at same time we were learning about what we needed to improve upon. During the past week, we discovered strengths and faults of the vehicle, what we needed to focus on and what we don’t need to focus on for Year Three. That will help us.”

GG: The green aspects of your car are incredible. It gets an electric range of 60 miles and 118 miles per gallon gas equivalent (combined city/highway cycle). How did you do it?

TG: “To start, the months leading up finals have been crazy and we used every moment of free time to get the vehicle where we wanted to be. We logged a lot of hours at CAVS, our ‘green garage.’ But I’d say we reached our fuel economy and consumption goals with an expert control strategy and a focus on picking the right components to do the job we needed the vehicle to do.”

GG: What’s your secret weapon?

TG: “The support of school. The university as whole has been really supportive and Professor Marshall Molen, our faculty advisor, was a huge help. Bill Beggs from GM, who is our mentor, was also great. Without the help from them, we couldn’t do what we did today.  It’s a great feeling to know that we won but it’s the competition from the other schools that keep us on our toes and looking forward to next year.”

For more information and to read the press release on this year’s winners, click here. For photos and videos from the entire finals week, please click here.

Don’t forget to join the Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, and Penn State teams on Friday, June 4 at 3:00 p.m. EDT for an online chat about their winning vehicles, Year Two highlights and what’s ahead in the final year of the EcoCAR competition! The Web chat will take place right here on Inside the Green Garage blog. No early registration is required, just be sure to mark your calendars!

Finally, it’s been a long few weeks of hard work, big accomplishments and even some laughs. Check out the highlights from Year Two Finals captured in 6 minutes. Great job to all the teams!

Congratulations to the first three teams to pass Safety/Tech Inspection. Mississippi State and Penn State officially passed their inspections  late last night, and UOIT  passed early this morning.

The UOIT team was close to passing earlier, but just kept encountering small problems that seemed to take much more time than expected to remedy. The team said they spent a lot of time wrapping wires in the correct colors of tape and making sure certain areas of the vehicle were labeled with the correct signage.

The Mississippi State team was the first team to pass Safety/Tech Inspections

Mississippi State passed the inspection slightly before Penn State, but the teams actually worked together to solve some of their problems, including controls issues. Teams shared notes and expertise to help each other along.

“Being the first to pass Safety Inspection doesn’t mean we are ahead in the competition,” said Matt Doude, team leader for Mississippi State University.  “Our biggest events are still ahead of us and there are so many awesome teams that we have to compete against.  It’s going to be tough.”

All the teams have been hard at work,  and teams from University of Victoria, North Carolina, and Wisconsin are in the queue for their safety inspection this afternoon.

It’s time to get  to work in Yuma and the teams had a busy day in the pits at the GM Desert Proving Ground. There are a lot of inspections ahead and, as you can see in this time-lapse video below, a lot going on to get the 16 vehicles ready for the track!

Thanks to EcoCAR photographer extraordinaire Roy Feldman for setting up this lapse!

Interested in making a difference this summer? Intern with Clean Cities and make a difference in your community by helping the nation reduce its dependence on petroleum, lower carbon and local air pollutant emissions, and build a green economy!

  

Clean Cities is a government-industry partnership sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Program that strives to reduce petroleum consumption in the transportation sector in nearly 90 communities across the country.

The 2010 Clean Cities internship will give up to 25 undergraduate (junior or senior) or graduate students studying communications, public relations, business, marketing, engineering or environmental sciences, the opportunity to build public awareness of advanced vehicle technologies, alternative fuels, and practices that reduce the consumption of petroleum. In addition, all EcoCAR team members are eligible for this internship opportunity. 

Specific Details:

  • Up to 25 internships available at one of the 90 U.S. Clean Cities Coalition locations working with dynamic Clean Cities coordinators and their stakeholders
  • Positions are full-time from June 1 – August 16, 2010
  • All interns will receive a $7,000 stipend
  • The Clean Cities internship could lead to a permanent position!

To submit your resume and complete the online application, please click here. The deadline to apply is March 26, 2010

Questions? Email: CleanCitiesIntern@anl.gov

The University of Victoria EcoCAR team was thrilled that the 2010 Olympics were held in their country, in Vancouver, Canada.  The UVic EcoCAR team joined the celebrations in Victoria by participating in Livingcolours, a three-day festival hosted by the City of Victoria. Despite the grey weather, there was an excellent turnout and the community came together to celebrate their Olympic spirit.

Following the example that the Vancouver Winter Olympics have set by attempting to be the greenest games yet, the UVic team used Livingcolours as an opportunity to speak with the public about advanced vehicle technologies. To garner interest, the UVic team set up a mini-Olympic event of PlasmaCar races, toy cars that are powered by using the natural forces of inertia, centrifugal force, gravity, and friction, which attracted both kids and adults alike. Using these fun, simplified cars, the UVic team was able to demonstrate how it is possible to use clean renewable energy resources, such as electricity in UVic’s own plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, to help power cars in a more efficient and eco-friendly way.

Check out UVic’s video that captures a few race highlights and the atmosphere of the day at Livingcolours which took place in Centennial Square in downtown Victoria.

OSU EcoCAR team with Snap-On’s local sales representatives and chief innovation officer Ben Brenton

As part of the EcoCAR program, each individual team has been fortunate enough to received state-of-the-art, donated equipment from sponsors, including  Snap-On Tools, to assist with bringing their clean vehicle designs to life. While all of the teams were given the same donations from EcoCAR sponsors, every once in a while a student team is lucky enough to get the opportunity to thank them in person.

That’s exactly what happened for the Ohio State University EcoCAR team. Snap-On Tools recently stopped by their garage to check out how the tools they generously donated are being put to use. Local sales representatives and chief innovation officer Ben Brenton took a tour of the garage, checked out the team’s work on their car so far, and took the time to talk to each OSU EcoCAR participant about their involvement with the competition.

What’s it like to work with A123 batteries? How far can an EcoCAR go on a tank of gas? What’s the advantage of B20 fuel over E85? What’s the best and most challenging aspects of devoting three years to building a green car?

Join a special EcoCAR Web chat with the University of Wisconsin and North Carolina State University teams Thursday, February 25 at 3 p.m. ET right here on the Inside the Green Garage blog. Simply use the link below to join the chat and ask the teams your questions.

Click Here to Join the EcoCAR Web Chat beginning at 3 p.m. Thursday!

This week, we are featuring a mentor from National Instruments (NI), another EcoCAR platinum sponsor! National Instruments is providing Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) support to 9 of the 17 EcoCAR teams. Two of the teams, Embry-Riddle and Virginia Tech, are also are using National Instruments’ Software-in-the-Loop (SIL) solution for their projects.

Stephen Barrett is a systems engineer at National Instruments where he provides engineering support services that include: pre-sales concept development, benchmarking, on-site training and consulting, and creating software add-on components for NI’s real-time testing platform. Stephen is a former member of the Texas Tech University Challenge X team and has been assisting the EcoCAR teams since the competition kick-off in 2008.

“I really enjoy participating in the EcoCAR program as a mentor. I’ve been able to leverage my successes and failures as a student and my real-world experiences to better advise the teams. The applications the teams are using are quite challenging and it’s been rewarding to see how quickly they apply the right tools and technologies to solve problems.”

Stephen Barrett as a student on the Texas Tech Challenge X team in 2008

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