Inside Look at the EcoCAR Competition from MathWorks Technical Lead Engineer: Part One

MathWorks is a Platinum Sponsor for the EcoCAR Challenge and has been involved in Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs) for many years. For each competition, MathWorks donates software for Model-Based Design and delivers intensive training to all student teams and faculty advisors during the fall workshops. Additionally, the company provides experienced automotive industry engineers as mentors who work closely with students. Part of MathWorks’ mission is to give back to the communities in which the team lives and works, using its engineering and education expertise. In the following interview, Paul Smith, Director of Consulting Services for MathWorks, talks about EcoCAR and how the competition is a convergence of both engineering and education. Paul also congratulates all of the teams for their hard work and dedication to date.

Q: What is your role in EcoCAR? How does EcoCAR compare to other student competitions you’re involved with?
A: My day job is Director of Consulting Services but I also act as MathWorks technical lead engineer for the EcoCAR competition. I help design the support structure MathWorks provides to the competition organizers, faculty advisors and student engineers. I also have the great privilege of participating in the judging of various elements of the annual competitions and MathWorks Modeling Award. While previous student engineering competitions focused primarily on hardware modifications and some add-on control systems based around rapid prototyping platforms, EcoCAR includes a unique focus on modeling and simulation, within engineering education as well physical vehicle development. The early focus on desktop and Hardware-in-the-Loop simulation based testing provides a safe platform to let engineers do what they do best – develop and try out new ideas. The shifting focus to developing the next generation automotive engineer has taken the program to a whole new level. The competition gives the students a really tremendous opportunity to learn how industry works and uses the same, albeit scaled down, development process GM uses. When they graduate, they are finding multiple job offers in the current jobs market. This is a great testament to the tremendous value participation in this program has both for the student and the company that hires them.

Q: What is MathWorks Crossover to Model Based Design and what are the judging criteria?
A: The Crossover to Model-Based Design Award recognizes EcoCAR teams that exhibit the most creative application of MathWorks software products to help achieve the competition’s overall objectives. Those objectives include, from a high level, reduction of the environmental impact of automobiles by improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions, while retaining the vehicle’s performance and consumer appeal. Basically, the student engineers are working on removing the automobile from the debate on environmental impact using industrial grade development process and tools.

The MathWorks award focuses a bit more narrowly on the application of our software as part of the overall competition and points were awarded to team in a number of areas including plant modeling, controls design, validation & verification, tuning, data analysis, visualization, and hardware implementation through automatic code generation. Extra credit is given for uses of MATLAB for analysis of engineering challenges outside the boundary of the vehicle that are part of the overall energy equation.

Q: What set Ohio State University apart from the other 15 teams this year?
A: The Ohio State University made extensive use of our physical modeling tools like SimScape and SimPowerSystems, Simulink, Stateflow, Control Design, and Optimization tools. They performed signal processing to examine high frequency high voltage effects. They used models to determine vehicle fusing and cooling requirements, and used Report Generator to produce summary reports to satisfy competition delvierables. They built a standalone engine controller from the ground up in Simulink (most teams command torque through a CAN interface to a black box to control engines). They have two simulation environments they’ve built called EcoSym and EcoDyn based on Simulink for static and dynamic analysis and design of their powertrain and related controls. Overall, OSU has built upon a rich tradition of Model-Based Design competency instilled by their faculty advisor, Georgio Rizzoni and clearly demonstrated to our judging panel that they were the team that set the standard for application of our tooling solutions.

Interested in Paul’s advice for the students heading into Year Three of the competition? And what is in store for MathWorks and EcoCAR? Check back here tomorrow for Part Two of Paul’s interview with the Inside the Green Garage blog!