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The Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team of Virginia Tech (HEVT) received a huge honor from EcoCAR sponsor, National Instruments (NI), this summer.  Team members, Lynn Gantt and Michael Kearney, were invited to give part of the Academic Keynote For NIWeek 2010 in Austin and presented to more than 4,000 people from the industry, academic, and the technical community. This invitation was a result of Virginia Tech’s success in Year Two of the competition through the use of several National Instruments products, including LabVIEW, Veristand, and StateChart software and CompactRIO and PXI hardware.  Winning the Best Use of Graphical System Design award from National Instruments also helped the team secure the role at the conference. 

The team’s presentation covered the goals of EcoCAR, the vehicle architecture, control strategy, Hardware-In-the-Loop testing, and a hardware demo showing off the driver display created by the team and HIL testing – a lot  to squeeze into a seven minute presentation! The hard work paid off and the presentation received strong applause from industry and academic professionals, and event organizers.

HEVT was joined on stage by Racing Green Endurance from Imperial College in London, England.  Soon, they will be taking their student-built electric race car 26,000 km down the Pan-American highway from Alaska to the tip of South America.  Another group from Virginia Tech, the Blind Driver Challenge Team out of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) also presented at the conference.  This group of senior design students is working with NI and the National Federation for the Blind to develop a car that one day can be driven by the blind. 

Check out the cool videos below from the NI Keynote address:

We are pleased to announce four new award opportunities made possible by EcoCAR Platinum Sponsors dSPACE, National Instruments, MathWorks and Freescale Semiconductor! The awards are designed to showcase exceptional ways the EcoCAR teams use the sponsors’ technologies, and as a result, successfully advance in the competition. Here’s an overview of the new awards:

  • dSPACE Embedded Success Award. The award will be granted to the teams that have effectively utilized dSPACE Hardware-in-the-Loop technology for controls/diagnostics development and validation in preparation for the Year Two vehicle testing. 
  • National Instruments Most Innovative Use of Graphical System Design Award. The award will be given to the team that demonstrates the most innovative use of National Instruments tools during the vehicle development cycle.
  • MathWorks Modeling Award. The award will be granted to the top three teams that best apply the core concepts of Model-Based Design with  the MathWorks tools to help achieve the overall competition objectives.
  • Freescale Semiconductor Innovation Award. The award will be granted to the team with the most innovative use of controls and electronics to give its EcoCAR a competitive advantage.  

The teams must notify the competition organizers by April 30, 2010 if they wish to participate. Only a couple weeks left to showcase how your EcoCAR team stands out from the pack! Check back for the winner’s listing in May.

Dr. James Truchard, president and CEO of National Instruments (NI), visited the Virginia Tech Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT) project bay, a few months back.  Dr. Truchard visited the Virginia Tech campus to see how HEVT is using NI equipment and software to design their EcoCAR.  HEVT demonstrated their vehicle controller interface on the computer using NI products. The HEVT members also had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Truchard about his work experiences and life story.

Since NI equipment and technology has played an intrical role in HEVT’s hybrid vehicle development, the team was thrilled to meet the brains behind the company.

HEVT team members posing with Dr. Truchard from National Instruments

The past 12 months of the EcoCAR competition marked quite a turnaround for the Virginia Tech Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT).  After falling short of expectations at the Year 1 Finals in Toronto, the team returned to the garage with a new group of engineers and placed first among teams using National Instruments systems in the Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) presentation at Winter Workshop in January.  How did they do it? Since the summer, mechanical engineers on the Controls subteam have spent countless hours becoming control system designers.  In the video below, “Virginia Tech Gets in the Loop for EcoCAR,” the team explains the crucial points of its HIL system, as well as the benefits of using HIL for designing controllers.   

Mechanical engineering seniors, Johnathan King and Mike Kearney, demonstrate how the team's controller Hardware-in-the-Loop works

The team points out that their success would not be possible without the gracious and patient support from National Instruments.  They company donated powerful software, like LabVIEW and VeriStand, and hardware, like CompactRIO supervisory controller and simple-to-use USB-CAN interface, making it possible for HEVT to design and implement a safe, robust, control system.  The team used their tools, in addition to the real-time vehicle model provided by GM and Argonne National Laboratory, to design its control strategy and implement it in both hardware and software.  The ultimate goal is a refined and accurate real-time vehicle model running on the National Instruments PXI HIL Chassis.  This model is important because it allows the team to test its controller against either the model or the real vehicle – and expect the same results.  HEVT  is using HIL to perfect its control code, so they can safely and simply take the controller from its HIL test stand and install it into the vehicle for further testing. 

A look at HEVT's technology from National Instruments

Safety is of utmost importance to HEVT and the safety-critical aspects of their control system is no exception. VeriStand’s “Stimulus Profile Editor” allows the team to simulate an infinite number of possible scenarios such as high temperatures, various vehicle speeds and communication errors, in order to ensure that the control code is robust and will not act unexpectedly under any circumstances.  HEVT is confident that the amount of safety-critical testing they have done will allow them to put the controller in the vehicle in the coming weeks and compare real life to simulation! The Virginia Tech HEVT Controls team would like to thank National Instruments for their ongoing support.  

Enjoy the video!  

Last month, the Georgia Tech EcoCAR team celebrated Engineers Week by participating in the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Program sponsored by the Georgia Engineering Alliance! The team held an event on February 20th that drew more than 100 young girls and their parents to learn about engineering, electronic and computer engineering, and EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge.

Thanks to National Instruments, the Georgia Tech team had Lego Mindstorm Kits on hand for the girls to use – they were a big hit! They also brought old cameras, DVD players, and cell phones, so the girls could take them apart, see the parts inside, and make a comparison to what the Georgia Tech team is doing to its GM-donated vehicle.  The event was a success!

Check out the video below of the National Instruments lego kit named “Doug” that was programmed to run away from strangers:

The Virginia Tech EcoCAR team recently completed the first step in a multiphase integration process to create its hybrid vehicle design.  The HEVT team successfully installed its 2.4 L FlexFuel (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) engine.  The team also installed a transmission into the vehicle that will allow for a quick launch after the engine has been off. 

“HEVT is off to a good start, but the team has several big projects to tackle in the next six months before heading to competition,” said Patrick Walsh, a graduate research assistant from Richmond, VA.

In the next few weeks, the team will be building its battery pack with modules and controllers donated by A123Systems, installing its rear electric motor with a custom subframe built by TriFab, and installing its Hybrid Vehicle Supervisory Controller provided by National Instruments.  Check back to the blog for a video of Virginia Tech’s completed vehicle, but for now here’s a teaser off what it takes to do a engine swap!

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

We have exciting news to share from Embry-Riddle! Last week, the university opened the doors to its new “green garage” where the EcoEagles will use aerospace techniques to build their EcoCAR.

The garage is top-of-the-line. It includes a rotary vehicle lift, dedicated high-voltage room, and an integrated hardware-in-the-loop laboratory donated by National Instruments.  Not only will be the students be designing a vehicle in the garage that is fuel efficient and evironmentally friendly, the lab itself is actually designed to reduce environmental impact – the floor covering is made from recycled tires! 

Embry-Riddle President John Johnson and Volusia County (Fla.) council members Joie Alexander and Patricia Northey joined the entire EcoCAR team and supporting faculty members to cut the ribbon on December 4, officially marking the grand opening of the new engineering laboratory. 

Joie Alexander, John Johnson, and Patricia Northey cutting the ribbon!

The “green garage” was made possible by the generous support of EcoCar Challenge sponsors General Motors, the Department of Energy, and the Government of Canada, in addition to Embry-Riddle team sponsors, International Speedway Corp., US Didactic, and SolarFit.

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Nicole Hard at Work

Nicole Hard at Work

A look back on my first Fall Workshop as an organizer…

As a student in the EcoCAR competition, you never realize how much work goes into these workshops. All you really think about is when breakfast/lunch will be served, when the buses will come pick you up and what training course or session track to pick from.

After my first fall workshop as an organizer, I am awed by the amount of work it takes for these events to run smoothly. It really does take a village for these competition events to work effectively. Collaboration from so many sponsors like GM, DOE, the Government of Canada, A123Systems, The Math Works, dSPACE, NI, Woodward, EPA, Freescale and so many others make it possible for this program to become the success it always has been. It is really a great experience to be behind the scenes and help make the program a triumph.
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On the eve of announcing the final winners (see post below) we captured the EcoCAR Challenge participants at their zaniest. Keep your eyes open for the answers to “You know you’re an engineer when…” and the “First thing I ever tore apart…” Also, don’t miss the gorgeous girls of EcoCAR, the “chick magnet” and shirtless man. Yes, this is a serious contest, but clearly this next generation of talented engineers likes to have fun inside their green garages!


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May 2020