Control, Control, Control: The Colorado State Vehicle’s Nervous System

The CSU team and its vehicle

The CSU team and its vehicle

Modern automobiles incorporate a wide variety of technologies, many of which require software for development and implementation.  The Chevy Malibu H2eV designed and built by the Colorado State University Vehicle Innovation Team (CSU VIT) is no exception.  If the motor is the muscles for a car and the fuel cells and battery are the heart and lungs providing energy, the controls team provides communication and direction like a vehicle’s brain and nervous system.

The production 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco that the CSU VIT received contained multiple controllers and communication networks.  In order to prepare the conventional gasoline hybrid vehicle to be converted into a fuel cell plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, controls team members had a great deal of work to do.  Tasks were split into areas such as developing soft ECUs (Electric Control Units), interfacing with the GM-LAN (General Motors Local Area Network) and performing test with SIL (Software in the Loop), HIL (Hardware in the Loop) and VIL (Vehicle in the Loop).

Removal of the entire conventional gasoline powertain from the Malibu Eco to allow for use of a zero emissions electric powertrain created roadblocks in the setup of the communications and control systems of the vehicle.  The controls team had to figure out ways to “trick” the vehicle into thinking that the gasoline engine still existed for certain systems, such as the speedometer and safety systems, so that it would continue to function properly.  Progressive development from SIL to HIL and finally VIL allowed the team to systematically implement different portions of communications and control into the team’s Malibu H2eV.

Each of the models and simulations that progress from software to hardware are developed as accurate approximations of their physical counterparts.  The team integrated realistic models of the original Malibu Eco’s systems with custom hydrogen fuel cell, high voltage battery and electric motor models to predict operational characteristics and provide preemptive troubleshooting.

The CSU VIT controls team members have been integral throughout the first two years of the competition and will continue to play a crucial role as the team moves into Year Three!