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The Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) program was started by Argonne National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy in 1987 and has included more than nine unique series over the last 22 years. Most recent AVTC series include EcoCAR, Challenge X and FutureTruck. Our latest “Where Are They Now” post features Shawn Midlam-Mohler, an AVTC alum who has contributed as a team member, team leader, and now faculty advisor for each of these recent AVTC series spanning the past 12 years.

Shawn started his M.S. at The Ohio State University in 1999 where he quickly got involved as a team member on the Ohio State FutureTruck team working on the Chevrolet Suburban, sponsored by GM. As a team member, Shawn worked on the emissions control system of the vehicle.  Shawn quickly discovered the significance of these competitions and signed up to be team leader for the Ford FutureTruck. During his time as a student, Shawn always felt that the time spent working on FutureTruck was one of the most valuable parts of his education.  Therefore, fostering this type of learning with new students was a natural fit for Shawn.

From 2004-2005, Shawn was focused mostly on completing his PhD, but still managed to support the Challenge X team at OSU. After completing his PhD in 2005, Shawn began working as a Research Engineer at The Ohio State University Center for Automotive Research where he currently is employed today. This position allows Shawn to perform research for some of the best in the automotive industry. He has had the opportunity to work with General Motors, Chrysler, Tenneco, Cummins, and many others through SMART @CAR and the CAR Industrial Consortium. Shawn’s research includes emissions control, powertrain modeling and applied engine control.

Currently, Shawn serves as the Co-Faculty Advisor for The Ohio State EcoCAR team. His experience in AVTCs allows Shawn to keep the OSU EcoCAR team motivated and on track.

Shawn works with Ohio State EcoCAR students on testing their vehicle

Shawn jokes, “During my time as a student in the advanced vehicle competitions, it would be an understatement to say that we are more successful now than we were in the past. Our earlier trials and tribulations make the present look a lot rosier when something goes wrong.  As serious as a current setback seems, I can usually think of something worse that we’ve already experienced and learned from.”

Shawn believes AVTCs give students opportunities to engage in the applied side of engineering.  Shawn stated, “Application of engineering principles is what industry thrives on and participation in motorsports projects like EcoCAR are great ways for students to get that experience.”

In addition to his role as the EcoCAR faculty advisor, Shawn is gradually becoming more involved in teaching and supporting the research areas within The Ohio State University‘s mission.  Shawn is working with interdisciplinary capstone senior design and is striving to integrate motorsports’ projects into Ohio State’s curriculum. He is taking on more responsibilities with the entire spectrum of automotive student project teams at Ohio State.  The OSU EcoCAR team is fortunate to have such strong leadership from Shawn and looks forward to his continued support of advanced vehicle technology competitions for years to come!

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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

This week’s Mentor Monday post features Bill Beggs, an engineering group manager at GM. Bill has been an Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition mentor for six years, first with Challenge X and now with the Mississippi State University EcoCAR team.  Bill has visited MSU twice in the past year, once last fall and once prior to the Year Two competition, to offer advice and assist the students with their EREV.  The team was extremely successful in Year Two and their efforts were both recognized and rewarded in San Diego with a first place win in the overall competition. 

During the EcoCAR Year One fall workshop, GM mentor Bill Beggs delivers a check for seed money to the MSU team leader, Matthew Doude

“It was great seeing all the teams’ efforts at the Year Two Finals in May,” said Bill.  “I’m proud of my team for winning, but it’s also inspiring to see the work of the other teams, too.”
Bill is looking forward to traveling to Mississippi later this year to check in on the team’s status in the third and final year of EcoCAR. 

“It makes a huge difference when you get face time with the students,” said Bill. “I love meeting individually with everyone on the team, seeing the vehicle first hand and talking through any issues they may have.  You just can’t get that kind of interaction over the phone or through email.” 

In Year Three, MSU is focused on vehicle refinement, which includes improving drive quality and optimizing fuel economy.  The students are also looking to incorporate after-market consumer electronic features, such as touch screens, into the console of their car.
Bill has worked for GM for 10 years.  Based in the Energy Center in Milford, MI, his current project focuses on the development and execution of more efficient fuel economies. 

“Basically, our goal is to achieve the best possible fuel efficiency we can for consumers,” he said.  “With all the new advances in vehicle technology, it’s an exciting field to be a part of right now.”

This week, Argonne National Laboratory and EcoCAR are taking part in SAE World Congress 2010! Not only will members of the Michigan Tech, Rose-Hulman and University of Victoria EcoCAR teams be in the crowd – look for them and say hello! – but two competition supporters are scheduled to speak. Vehicle systems engineer and EcoCAR organizer Frank Falcone is delivering a technical presentation on hybrid powertrain optimization as well as Don Hillebrand, director of the Center for Transportation Research at Argonne, who is giving a keynote speech on energy policy recommendations.

Frank’s a familiar face to the EcoCAR teams and he’s an Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition alum himself, having participated in Challenge X competition. His talk at SAE World Congress is focusing on many elements of his thesis and the work he did as team leader for San Diego State University’s Challenge X team. Frank highlights the complicated challenges he faced building his vehicle and those that the EcoCAR students are literally working through now as they prepare for Year Two Finals.

Don’s keynote speech discusses the lack of a clear national energy policy and it’s effect on the business of renewable fuels and vehicles. Following his talk, a panel will outline ways and ideas to ensure vehicle manufacturers, energy providers and consumers will all benefit in the future.

We are thrilled to be part of SAE World Congress 2010 and to show our support for such an integral organization and the superior work SAE has and continues to accomplish!

This week’s Mentor Monday post takes a look into the lives of three men that participated in Challenge X, the Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition that preceded EcoCAR. Ron Lewis (Mississippi State), Steve Scott (University of Michigan), and Kennabec Walp (Mississippi State) all took a moment to reflect on their Challenge X experiences and how the program helped get them to where they are today!

Ron Lewis found that the competition helped many students, including himself, decide on a specific direction for their future work. “Challenge X helped set my career path and allowed me to gain much needed experience with a large long term project. The experience gave me a leg up when it came time to search for a position. I was already headed down the path of automotive engineering, and the Challenge X program definitely reassured my choice for a career,” said Lewis, now an applications engineer for Woodward.

Steve Scott recalls how companies with products and tools used in the competitions also often realized the benefits of university sponsorships in the form of talent – the students often become recruits. “Corporate contacts made through Challenge X were directly responsible for my two most recent positions within the field of alternative powertrain development. In addition to offering unique hands-on experience, student competitions such as Challenge X and EcoCAR attract self-motivated students truly interested in the targeted technologies. These are just a few of the reasons progressive companies participate in and recruit heavily from student engineering competitions,” said Scott, now a senior systems engineer for Parker Hannifin Corporation and former applications engineer for Woodward.

Many students who participate in programs like Challenge X and EcoCAR learn valuable skills that are a priceless asset for future employment opportunities. “To be successful with my Challenge X projects, I needed to develop control systems quickly – MotoHawk enabled me to do just that. I was so excited by the innovative technology that it led to my career as a MotoHawk developer,” said Kennabec Walp, who is now an embedded software engineer for Woodward and the Woodward technical representative for EcoCAR.

Kennabec joined the MSU Challenge X team as a graduate student and says he picked up invaluable skills he wouldn’t have been exposed to in normal classroom experiences. “Challenge X gave me extensive hands-on experience with both existing technology as well as the leading edge of new technology such as hybrid vehicle designs and model based development,” he said.

Photo circa 2007

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

Carl Leung, UWAFT team member, talks with 2009 Canadian International Auto Show attendees

Calvin Leung, UWAFT team member, talks with 2009 Canadian International Auto Show attendees

The National Hydrogen Association (NHA) recently concluded that hydrogen-based vehicle technology is an economic and environmentally-friendly long term solution to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels in its report titled, Energy Evolution: An Analysis of Alternative Vehicles and Fuels to 2100. The report discusses the importance of continual research and development of hydrogen technology for a zero-emission future*. The University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT) is dedicated to the realization of such a future by developing a fuel cell plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

UWAFT also recognizes the importance of educating the public on green technology with the hope that they make informed and educated decision. One particular highlight of our outreach efforts is our participation in 2009 Canadian International Auto Show, which attracted over 250,000 attendees.
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Frank Falcone In Action

Frank Falcone In Action

After being laid off from my eight-year job as a lab technician, I decided it was time to return to school at San Diego State University and finish my Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Initially, I figured I would get through school, get a job somewhere in San Diego and get back to evening surfing sessions as soon as possible. Then my life changed.

During my fourth year, I caught word of a hybrid vehicle engineering project at SDSU that was just getting started called Challenge X. As a diehard gear-head and car enthusiast, I went to check it out and, almost immediately, I was hooked. As soon as I started working on SDSU’s high-performance hybrid vehicle, I knew I had found my niche. I was always interested in being part of solving the nation’s energy issues, and if I could do this while building fast cars, even better! SDSU, however, was new to these types of competitions and, as a result, we faced many tough challenges.
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