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The Mississippi State University EcoCAR team has been working diligently over the past few months to reduce the overall mass of their vehicle.  The mechanical/powertrain group has been redesigning and building new aluminum motor and engine mounts to replace the older steel mounts.  Just before the holidays, the team dropped the entire powertrain to make the improvements.  While the powertrain was out of the vehicle for a few days, the team also made some upgrades to the electrical wiring and mounted a new sway bar.

In addition to the aluminum mounts, MSU is also working on other options for lightweighting the vehicle.  The team is currently partnering with aircraft manufacturer, Aurora Flight Sciences, to build carbon fiber components for their EcoCAR.  MSU team members continue to research additional options that will decrease the overall mass of the vehicle, thus improving the vehicle’s braking, acceleration, and fuel economy.

Machining a new motor mount on the end mill

Is your team focusing on lightweighting your vehicle? Post your stories and document your progress in the comment box below, we’d love to hear from you!

With the first semester of the third and final year of EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge under their belt, Mississippi State University’s EcoCAR controls team has been hard at work applying what they learned from the Winter Workshop at The Mathworks headquarters in Boston, MA, to their vehicle control systems.  Not only has the controls team updated their Hardware-in-the-Loop simulator to match their championship competition vehicle, but will soon begin the optimization process using super-computers.

Super-computing allows for iterative simulations to deterimine how systems and components will behave under varioius conditions (image from http://www.HPC.msstate.edu)

MSU is part of the High Performance Computing Collaboratory.  As such, the MSU EcoCAR team is excited to leverage these resources to produce a controller strategy that is optimized for energy management.  Thanks to the support of dSPACE and The Mathworks, the MSU controls team will be optimizing using the latest versions of MATLAB® & Simulink®, which will help keep MSU on top of the competition.

“We are very fortunate to have access to some incredible resources here at Mississippi State University, and as a competition team, we are very excited to use super-computing to push the boundaries of our control systems,” said team leader Matt Doude. “We like having a competitive edge, and we like that edge to be sharp.”

As the team moves forward in the competition, they will also be utilizing other cutting-edge technologies, including a four-wheel chassis dynamometer and 3D virtual environment simulations.

ClimateWire’s Darius Dixon contributed an article to The New York Times last week entitled, “Preparing Students to Roll Off the Campus and Into Big Automotive Jobs.” The piece features EcoCAR and explores the evolution of Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs), the students competing in them and their relationship with the auto industry. Not only does Dixon talk at great length about the competition, he also includes highlights from Virginia Tech and Mississippi State University in his narrative!

Dixon points out that initially, vehicle competitions aimed to advance technology and promote alternative fuels. Twenty-three years and 16,000 students later, the competitions have other emphases. EcoCAR’s own Kristen De La Rosa from Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) is quoted in the article saying that there has been a shift in the emphasis of the program from designing and developing future vehicles (pre-hybrid market) to an emphasis on providing the most real-world educational experience for the future leaders of the auto industry.

Teaching this type of systems-level thinking and skills, while emphasizing hands-on learning and real-world applications, presents another major set of AVTC benefits – opportunities for students to make an almost seamless transition into careers in the auto industry and related fields. Close relationships with General Motors (GM), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), ANL and other industry heavy-hitters have an influence on the EcoCAR experience – an admittedly good one according to Virginia Tech’s EcoCAR co-team leader, Lynn Gantt, who is quoted as saying, “Who wouldn’t want their industry involved in their education? Just about everyone among the team and sub-team leaders has a job offer from industry.”

How has EcoCAR or other AVTCs prepared you for the real world? Please share your comments, we’d love to hear from you!

For a deeper view into how EcoCAR students have gone on to work for companies like GM, DOE and ANL, check out: Life After EcoCAR: Jim Motavalli Examines Recruiting and Future Careers for Students, an Inside the Green Garage post featuring insights from auto journalist and EcoCAR enthusiast, Jim Motavalli.

School may be out for summer, but that didn’t stop two universities from welcoming political figures to their respective campuses this month to discuss the EcoCAR Challenge and their shared interest in clean vehicle technology.

Last week, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) paid a visit to the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and met with the EcoCAR team to learn about innovations in hybrid vehicle technology.

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar gets an update on Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s EcoCAR hybrid vehicle development project from faculty advisors Marc Herniter (left) and Zac Chambers.

During the visit, EcoCAR co-faculty advisors, Zac Chambers, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Marc Herniter, professor of electrical and computer engineering, presented an update on the Rose-Hulman team’s hybrid vehicle, which received technology and appearance awards in the Year Two Finals in May.

Last week, the Mississippi State University EcoCAR team got a chance to catch up with longtime supporter Congressman Gregg Harper (R-MS) at an MSU Alumni Extravaganza. Rep. Harper and his family have shown great interest in the EcoCAR Challenge. At the event, Rep. Harper checked out the team’s vehicle, asked questions and expressed how proud he is of the MSU team. He even mentioned that he’d like to see the car in Washington, D.C. at the end of Year Three.

U.S. Congressman Gregg Harper with MSU outreach coordinator Lee Pratt.

The MSU team also had the privilege to spend the day with a local political figure, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. For the governor’s recent campus visit, the MSU EcoCAR team displayed their current vehicle as well as MSU’s champion Challenge X vehicle. Governor Barbour asked questions and expressed an interest in the EcoCAR’s plug-in technology and congratulated the team for placing first in the Year Two Finals.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour with MSU EcoCAR team members

When leaders like Senator Lugar, Congressman Harper and Governor Barbour make campus visits and attend EcoCAR events, they are acknowledging the efforts of the hardworking EcoCAR teams and showing their support. We hope that public figures and opinion leaders continue to learn more about EcoCAR and use their notoriety to boost public awareness of advanced vehicle technology.

Read more about Gov. Barbour’s visit to MSU and Sen. Lugar’s visit to Rose-Hulman.

The Mississippi State team was thrilled to take home top honors at EcoCAR’s Year Two Finals, and it appears they’re not the only ones feeling proud. The attention on MSU and their fellow top finishers, Penn State and Virginia Tech, has been non-stop. This week, they reached an impressive milestone: 100 articles written about their win in one month. Local and university media support was boosted by recognition from national publications including The NewYork TimesWired and CNET’s Car Tech Blog.

To see the entire list of 100 articles, check out MSU’s blog post, “Four Weeks, 100 Media Articles.” Congratulations!

The Mississippi State EcoCAR team has had an exciting summer so far! In early June, the team took its EcoCAR for a victory lap around campus and was greeted with cheers, signs, and of course cowbells in celebration of the recent win at the EcoCAR Year Two Competition Finals.  After completing the lap, the vehicle drove MSU president Dr. Mark Keenum and Dean of Engineering Dr. Sarah Rajala to MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems. Delivering the opening remarks, President Keenum said he was “beaming with pride” over the team’s success and called the team the “envy of the SEC.”  He announced to a cheering crowd that “this is tantamount to Mississippi State University winning a national championship. We competed against the best of the best.”

The MSU EcoCAR ready for its victory lap!

The team’s victory lap was well-documented, with students stopping on the sidewalks to snap pictures and video of the car as it drove past.  There were several photographers and television crews on campus to capture the event, as well as a film truck trailing the convoy to record every frame in high-definition.  

For more pictures, check out the team’s Facebook page, here!

This week, we are featuring two more mentors from EcoCAR’s platinum sponsor, dSPACE. If you remember from last week, dSPACE is providing Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) support to 8 of the 17 EcoCAR teams.

Jim Hollowell working with EcoCAR students

Jim Hollowell is a senior applications engineer for dSPACE responsible for providing design, testing and customer support services for HIL systems.  Jim is serving as a mentor to the Mississippi State University team during the EcoCAR competition. 

“It’s a wonderful learning experience, for both the students and me.  The future of the industry looks bright. Great young minds, with wonderful enthusiasm and new ideas.”

Tobias Eifler teaching EcoCAR students about HIL implementation

Tobias Eifler is a senior applications engineer for dSPACE responsible for the implementation of automotive simulation models on HIL systems.  Since the kick-off of the EcoCAR Challenge in the fall of 2008, Tobias has been serving as a mentor to the University of Waterloo.

“I am training students on rapid prototyping and Hardware-in-the-Loop model-based implementation utilizing dSPACE hardware and software.  The tools and technologies that the EcoCAR teams are using are very sophisticated.  The students were faced with a steep learning curve and it is very satisfying and encouraging to see the fast progress they are making. It’s an honor for me to be able to play a role in educating the engineers of tomorrow.  I am from Germany, but temporarily working in the dSPACE U.S. office, so the events associated with the EcoCAR competition have made it possible for me to see some extraordinary and exciting places in North America.  It’s been a great experience!”

In early November, members of the Mississippi State University EcoCAR team gathered to work with Habitat for Humanity in Starkville, Mississippi.  MSU students, faculty, and staff volunteered their time in four hour shifts to help build the “Maroon Edition” house for a local family. Team members caulked and painted doors and door frames to get the house closer to completion. Working with other students, the MSU team was able to share its enthusiasm for the EcoCAR competition while donating its time and energy to help better the community.  

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