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In 1987, The U.S. Department of Energy began sponsoring Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC).  More than 16,000 students from more than 600 institutions in North America have participated in one of  these hands-on learning opportunities.  To date, there have been more than 45 different competitions.   Take a moment to reflect back on some of the competitions over the years and look how far we’ve come!

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This week’s Where Are They Now post features Brandon Tarbert, a long-time Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) participant. Starting as an undergraduate at The Pennsylvania State University, Brandon was looking to get involved with things that interested him. He was told as a freshman that the best way to end up in a career he loved was to get involved in an extracurricular activity in college. One evening when Brandon was out with friends, he met the school’s Challenge X team leader and heard all about the competition. Brandon had a nascent interest in hybrid vehicles and clean energy and thought it could be an exciting opportunity.

Starting in Year One, Brandon began working with Penn State’s Advanced Vehicle Technologies (AVT) team to promote Challenge X throughout the campus and to local news media. As the competition progressed, Brandon and the AVT team worked with other sustainable groups around campus to promote sustainable living.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communications from Penn State, Brandon was hired by Sentech, Inc. as a communications analyst for the U. S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Vehicle Technologies Program. At the DOE, Brandon managed communications and web development. He worked with engineers to promote the research and development pursued at the DOE’s national laboratories focused on advanced vehicle technologies. Brandon also supported the logistics, planning, and judging for EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge.  

Brandon really enjoyed working with the EcoCAR students, but is currently fulfilling a two-year service with the Peace Corps in the Republic of Benin, a country in West Africa. We wish Brandon the best during his service and look forward to his return!

Brandon teaching in West Africa

Each year at competition finals, the Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) organizers distribute two very special “organizer” awards – the Dr. Donald Streit Sportsmanship Award and the Ron Stence Spirit of the Challenge Award. The first honor goes to the team that unselfishly reaches out to assist and support the other teams and organizers, despite their own circumstances and challenges. The award is named for the late Dr. Donald Streit, who served as faculty advisor to the Pennsylvania State University FutureTruck team and whose dedication and sportsmanship live on through the AVTC students. The Spirit of the Challenge Award is named in memory of a longtime EcoCAR competition organizer and sponsor from Freescale Semiconductor, Mr. Ron Stence. Ron was a very dedicated and passionate advocate of the AVTC program whose persistence to overcome almost any challenge encompassed the true “spirit of the challenge.”

This year, the University of Victoria EcoCAR team, lead by students Jeremy Wise and Jeff Waldner, had the perseverance, sportsmanship, strength of character, and positive attitude characterized by both the Spirit of the Challenge and Sportsmanship Awards. This was evident in the unanimous decision by competition organizers that the team would receive both honors.

The University of Victoria team accepting an award at the EcoCAR Year Two Finals

Throughout the year, the University of Victoria fought endlessly through challenges and was successful in having a running vehicle. Leading up to competition, the team participated in weekly conference calls to help others use GM’s 2-Mode transmission and answer questions about their development and integration progress. They were heavily involved in the discussion boards, always answering any questions other teams might have in a timely manner, even while developing their own vehicle. The team was an integral part of 2-Mode integration and control strategy troubleshooting, and without their efforts, we can be sure that other teams would not be as far along as they were when they arrived at competition.

Even with all of their preparation, the team had some issues going into competition. With just a couple weeks before their vehicle shipped to Yuma, they suffered a broken input shaft and had to remove their powertrain for repair. During competition, they had another mechanical issue with their powertrain. Rather than give up, the team modified their control strategy to achieve significant vehicle functionality and were able to complete almost all of the dynamic events, ultimately finishing in 4th place overall. 

The University of Victoria EcoCAR in action!

Despite their own technical struggles, the University of Victoria team consistently went out of their way to share knowledge and experience with other 2-mode teams throughout Year Two. During competition, one team noted that they were unaware Victoria was even having mechanical issues because whenever they asked them questions, the team members were always positive and willing to help. They demonstrated wisdom and vision in recognizing that helping others reach their ultimate potential is as valuable as seeking their own immediate success. The University of Victoria is a model to other teams in their attitude, willingness to help others, and ability to never give up. We can’t wait to see what the team does in Year Three! Congratulations, UVic team!

Contributed by Nicole Lambiase, an engineering coordinator for Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition program.

In an event sponsored by Embry-Riddle’s Office of Diversity, more than 80 Girl Scouts, teachers, parents, and scout leaders came to the Embry-Riddle campus for a day of fun and learning. Six different troops from across Northeast Florida (St. Augustine, Sanford, Jacksonville) were in attendance. In the morning, the girls participated in hands-on activities that inspired the future engineers. They built balsa wood airplane models, water rockets, and even had a competition to see which troop could build the strongest model bridge. After the activities and lunch, the girls were brought into the EcoEagles’ garage to see what the team was working on in the EcoCAR competition. 

The girls took a tour around the garage and their eyes lit up as they took in all of the tools, computers, and the EcoCAR. The Embry-Riddle team explained the purpose of the EcoCAR program and the importance of reducing emissions for the future. The girls were then asked to fill out a survey about their knowledge of green vehicle technologies and the companies currently developing them. 

The Girl Scouts event was a great success because the team was able to spread the word about EcoCAR and its importance. The team also got the girls excited about engineering, so maybe one day they will participate in an Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition too!

Girl Scouts and EcoEagles’ team leader, Vince Sabatini, in the Embry-Riddle garage

Cheri Olsen, right, preparing for the EcoCAR Year 1 Finals in Toronto

Cheri-Ann Olsen has been involved in the Department of Energy’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC) for more than ten years. She first participated in the program as a student on the University of Alberta’s Ethanol Vehicle Challenge team in 2000 and FutureTruck team in 2002. After graduation, Cheri took a job at Natural Resources Canada, an AVTC sponsor since the program’s inception in 1987, where she has served as a competition organizer and Executive Steering Committee Member. Over the years, Cheri has had the opportunity to see the benefits of AVTC competitions from both sides of the spectrum – as a student and as an organizer.

“As a student, I had the unique opportunity to apply the skills I learned in school, and gain new experiences from the business and outreach aspects of the program,” said Cheri. “As an organizer, it’s exciting to watch the teams learn, develop and refine their technologies during the competitions.”

One of Cheri’s fondest memories was witnessing the University of Waterloo Challenge X team create a fully operational fuel cell vehicle that competed in the dynamic events during the final year of the competition. This major milestone marked the first time in AVTC history that a team was able to participate using a hydrogen fuel cell for vehicle propulsion.

Cheri has been a core organizer for both the Challenge X and EcoCAR competition series, serving as  a member of the Technical Sub Committee, the Co-Event Captain for the Competition Scoring, and a member of the Executive Steering Committee. These roles have given Cheri a close and intimate look at the teams’ capabilities and their vehicle development process.

“As a whole, advanced vehicle technology has come a long way in the last 30 years,” said Cheri. “It’s really nice to see all the hard work between governments, academia and industry come to fruition through competitions such as Challenge X and EcoCAR. It’s exciting to know that the future of advanced vehicle technology in North America is in such capable hands.”

With the EcoCAR Challenge well underway, both Cheri and Natural Resources Canada look forward to seeing where the next installment of AVTCs will take the ever evolving automotive industry.

Five years ago, Matt Stevens was sitting in a classroom learning about electrochemistry and control theory. Matt participated in Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility, a Department of Energy Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC), throughout his undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Waterloo. Matt’s experience in Challenge X led him to his current position, helping clients design and build powertrains and technology that will help drive tomorrow’s vehicles.  

Matt served as a team leader for the University of Waterloo’s Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT) in Challenge X, which re-engineered a production Chevy Equinox into a hybrid fuel cell vehicle.  With funding and support from Natural Resources Canada, Matt and his team developed the first dedicated fuel cell vehicle in AVTC history to participate in every competition event! The project was the foundation for his research, which earned Matt a PhD in chemical engineering with a focus on hybrid powertrain design and battery degradation.

The interdisciplinary nature of the AVTC program inspired Matt to launch CrossChasm Technologies with Chris Mendes, another AVTC graduate. The CrossChasm team expanded and added a third AVTC graduate, Jen Bauman. 

Applying new technologies to reduce the cost of developing hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicles; Matt, Chris and Jen work with off-road, light-duty and heavy-duty vehicle clients.  The CrossChasm team also works with fleets, policy makers, and NGO’s to enable the adoption of higher efficiency powertrains.  The interdisciplinary nature of AVTC was instrumental in developing the soft skills demanded by CrossChasm’s clients.

Matt is currently an “on-call” resource for the Waterloo team and is excited to see what the graduates of EcoCAR will turn out this year!

Matt Stevens (middle) poses with GM and Department of Energy executives during Challenge X

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September 2020