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Today, EcoCAR is marking the official 48-day countdown to the competition Finals!

16 teams x 3 years = 48 days remaining

 Lucky number 48 signifies the nexus of the 16 collegiate teams who dedicated three purposeful years to reduce the environmental impact of their EcoCAR vehicles without compromising performance, safety and consumer acceptability.

Photo: Rob and Stephanie Levy, Flickr

Check back to the blog to follow our real-time ticker and to read testimonials from the 16 teams that participated in the competition. The teams will be sharing their favorite memories from the last three years and posting photos and videos as we get down to the wire!

It’s crunch time!

Throughout the last semester, the University of Victoria EcoCAR team focused its efforts on the development of its vehicle’s control systems – with quite a bit of success. One of the team’s major breakthroughs was the distribution of power from both the electric motor and internal combustion engine to each axle. This was achieved using a 2-mode transmission. Currently, the power distribution between axles can be adjusted manually, but the control system will soon be able to dynamically allocate torque depending on traction control and other system diagnostics.

The engine start and stop sequencing has been improved as well, but requires some additional work.  The team also successfully optimized its EcoCAR’s ability to sustain a charge, which has been implemented and tested on both the model and the vehicle. Using a static shifting speed, UVic has enabled the transmission to shift using a fixed gear, and the team is preparing to upgrade to a dynamic shifting speed in the near future.

UVic has started its dynamic testing using a circular stretch of road on campus. The team’s EcoCAR was able to accelerate to 55 km/h in just 3.3 seconds, but due to local speed restrictions, the 0-100 km/hr event will have to wait until EPA testing at the Spring Workshop next month.

We are excited to see the UVic team and their EcoCAR in Ann Arbor!

UVic's EcoCAR

As the deadline to ship their EcoCAR (the VT-REX) out for EPA testing creeps closer, the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team at Virginia Tech (HEVT) is working hard to make significant changes to its vehicle. Last week, the team focused on making improvements to the 360 Volt, A123 Lithium Ion Phosphate battery pack. While incorporating the battery, HEVT has been challenged to maintain adequate cargo space and eliminate a large gap between the floor pan and the battery base plate, but these issues have been addressed in the latest round of improvements.

For starters, HEVT lowered the battery using a new layout that contains all battery modules within the frame rails of the car. This adjustment helps open up more space in the trunk and lowers the center of gravity in the rear, which helps alleviate over-steer. In addition, the passenger compartment is now completely sealed from outside elements including carbon monoxide, road debris, and noise.

Changes to the battery, including a redesign of the high voltage battery pack, are largely motivated by the installation of a more powerful rear traction motor. HEVT engineers dedicated the majority of the week to rewiring the low voltage communication harness as well as the high voltage wires in order to accommodate the new battery module layout.

To complete the battery upgrades, HEVT needs to finalize the wiring, permanently mount the modules to the base plate, and finally secure the top of the battery case. The team is confident that these modifications will ensure the VT-REX is a highly efficient and “green” vehicle by improving its electric capabilities.

Check out the video below to watch HEVT updating its EcoCAR battery!

For nearly three years, the 16 EcoCAR teams have been designing, building and perfecting their vehicles. The Spring Workshop at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory (NVFEL) in Ann Arbor, MI is right around the corner and marks the first significant Year Three milestone and a prime opportunity for the teams to showcase their commitment, vehicle achievement and promising futures.

We’re pleased to announce the group assignments for the Spring Workshop. Group A will attend the first week of the Workshop and Group B will attend the second week.

Group A:

Group B:

We’re getting really excited for the Spring Workshop and we look forward to seeing all the teams in Ann Arbor!

The fall term of Year Three in the EcoCAR Challenge brought with it significant milestones for the University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT).  Without a doubt, the most notable milestone was the first successful start of their GM-donated fuel cell stack. Days later, GM engineers traveled to the University of Waterloo campus to assess the progress of the team. This was an exciting event for UWAFT engineers, as they were able to obtain valuable feedback from GM powertrain professionals. With the fuel cell up and running, the team members are now waiting on the installation of the DC-to-DC converter that will bring everything together and allow the vehicle to run in hybrid mode.

There were two other major achievements that occurred during the fall term. First, the complete redesign of their high-voltage battery pack using A123 donated battery modules, and second, the development of a custom-built DC-to-DC converter. With these milestones in the rearview, UWAFT looks forward to the EcoCAR Spring Workshop in March at the U.S. EPA facilities in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

For a further technical update, including footage of the first successful start of the GM- donated fuel cell stack at Waterloo, check out the video below:

The Georgia Tech team is very excited about their Year Three progress. The vehicle is coming along great and they’re enjoying every step as they complete their design! Georgia Tech has been making serious strides under the hood as well as inside its vehicle. As the team’s controls leader, Carlos Cubero, explains in the first video below, they have made improvements to increase safety, pedal response and overall driving experience.

In the second video below, mechanical leader, John Arata, explains the benefits of the vehicle’s touchscreen display on the center console.

Keep up the great work Georgia Tech!

Progress report from Carlos Cubero

John Arata talks touchscreens:

The Georgia Tech EcoCAR team is back on campus and back on the road. Since their vehicle’s SOC (state of charge) was at 66.5%, they recently decided to move away from testing engine starts and tried driving EV-only on Mode 1. Team members had to play around with the axle torque command as they needed about 170 Nm to get their vehicle moving on the ground. The team is thrilled because for the first time since they took their powertrain apart several months ago, they had their vehicle moving under its own power! Unfortunately, the team ran into some issues if they pushed too far on the pedal or the requested torque got too high. They were able to drive slowly for a bit around the lot in their garage and going in reverse worked fine.

The Georgia Tech team members collaborated with their GM mentors and addressed the engine difficulties in time for its first GT Interest Meeting of the year. The team was able to mark this occasion by driving the EcoCAR on campus for the first time since last year.

There are many more adjustments left to make, but GT is looking forward to every second of it. They’re gearing up to shock everyone during Year Three, which is going to be the best year yet!

Follow the Georgia Tech team’s every move on Twitter @GTEcoCAR and Facebook.

Since receiving vehicle performance results at the Year Two Finals, the NC State EcoCAR team has been hard at work testing its vehicle and making necessary adjustments to achieve the best results possible. To kick off Year Three, the team held an outreach event for local students enrolled in a Renewable Energy Technology pre-college program. The high school students were given an overview of the EcoCAR competition and and the opportunities the program makes possible. After the presentation, the NC State team then gave the group a tour of the garage to check out the EcoCAR. The students and teachers were excited to watch the vehicle operate on the gravel roads around the garage and on the garage vehicle lift to really get a feel for the Extended Range Electric Vehicle capabilities.

Pre-college students taking a look under the hood of NC State's EcoCAR

On the technical side, NC State team members are currently working on different projects to get their EcoCAR running smoothly focused on improving the feel of electric motor regenerative breaking, acceleration and creep (the ability to move without either pedal depressed).  In addition, the team is continuing its effort to run the diesel engine-generator unit before the next semester begins at NC State. The team is working to refine its EcoCAR in Year Three with plans to lighten the vehicle, improve the battery packaging for better rear seat and cargo space, and make it showroom-ready inside and out by the end of the competition.

Cool exterior!

President Spanier

The Penn State EcoCAR team is proud to share that the Penn State University president, Dr. Graham Spanier, spoke about the team and its efforts at the school’s most recent Board of Trustees meeting. President Spanier spoke highly of the EcoCAR team’s third place finish at the Year Two competition during his informational report. In his remarks, President Spanier said:

“Let me now highlight several initiatives where research meets education. Recently, a car designed by a Penn State student team won third place overall in the 2010 EcoCAR competition sponsored by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy. The competition challenged university engineering students to re-engineer a GM-donated vehicle, with goals to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions while retaining the vehicle’s performance and consumer appeal. Sixteen teams competed and Penn State’s EcoCAR brought home 10 trophies, including best social media, best AVL driver quality and best technical report.”

President Spanier also spoke about the EcoCAR team at the State of the University Address last September. The Penn State team is thrilled to be recognized so highly by the president of its university. They hope to continue to make Dr. Spanier and the rest of our university proud in Year Three!

The PSU EcoCAR team at the Year Two Finals

EcoCAR is a multi-dimensional project that brings students together from a wide array of majors. The outreach component of the competition draws in communications and marketing students who want to contribute what they’ve learned in the classroom to the team. Outreach is an integral part of the EcoCAR competition, with the goal of educating communities and raising awareness about the benefits of advanced vehicle technologies. Outreach strategies focus on how advanced technologies reduce the overall impact of transportation on the environment and our economy.

The main focus for EcoCAR’s Year Two outreach program was media relations and the education of policy makers, youth, consumers, government officials, and NGOs, with an emphasis on social media outlets. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, blog posts, videos, and online forums were just a few forms of social media that students used to help rally fans and introduce others to the EcoCAR project. Social media outreach proved to be very efficient in communicating messages about energy efficiency and advanced vehicle technologies to the public.

Not only was Mississippi State University the overall first place team in Year Two, but also placed first in outreach. MSU scored 36.9 points for outreach efforts, Ohio State University followed with a very close second place victory scoring 36.6 and Pennsylvania State University following just behind in third place with a total of 35.9 points.

MSU team members accepting the EcoCAR 1st place Outreach Award

“Our outreach team was successful due to the diversity of our members’ talents; each member had something unique to offer,” said Elizabeth Butler, MSU team Outreach Coordinator. “The engineering side of our team was also really supportive in helping out with events and together the group was able to accomplish a wide range of events with a lot of creativity.”

Several teams invited government leaders from their community to their workshops to check out their vehicle and to learn about the EcoCAR Challenge. Other teams visited local schools and youth groups to discuss fuel efficiency and ways to reduce petroleum dependency. MSU developed very close relationships with many local schools, even scheduling return visits to update the kids about their vehicle’s progress throughout the school year, as well as educate them about energy-related issues.

The third place outreach winner, Penn State, also took home top honors in the Best Social Media category for the second year in a row. Outreach Coordinator and fervent tweeter, Dana Bubonovich, said the team was successful because they were able to keep updating information on various online platforms.

Dana and Allison from Penn State accepting the Best Social Media Award at Finals

“Throughout Year Two, I updated our Twitter page more than 900 times; I tried to blog as often as I could and update our Facebook page with the help of the engineers,” said Bubonovich. “Social media has become the new way to learn about current news and trends, so by focusing a lot of my time on that, I was able to increase the team’s recognition throughout Pennsylvania.”

While in San Diego at the Year Two Finals, the Outreach Coordinators had the opportunity to work with national media at the EcoCAR “Ride and Drive” event. The teams and the Outreach Coordinators spent time talking to the press and showing off their vehicles.

The EcoCAR outreach program helps students learn how to promote their efforts and energy efficient vehicles on various public platforms, and prepares them for jobs in the rapidly-changing energy world.

Outreach grows increasingly more important as teams begin Year Three of competition. This year, teams will focus on refining their vehicle into near-production prototypes. With a strong focus on consumer appeal, engineering and marketing students will work even more closely with each other, developing an understanding of how both roles play a part in developing a consumer product.

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