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

Today, we are sharing Part Two of the interview with Paul Smith from the MathWorks.  In Part One of the interview we learned about Paul’s role in the EcoCAR competition and what set Ohio State apart from the other teams in Year Two. Paul shared some great insights, so check out the rest of the conversation below!

Q: What was your most memorable moment from the Year Two Finals events in San Diego?
A: During the presentation from Mississippi State University when Will Dickerson, the student presenting to our judging panel said “we couldn’t have done this without Stateflow.” The MSU team had a really detailed understanding of some of the more subtle features and applied them to the great benefit of the team. MSU went on to win the overall EcoCAR competition in Year Two.

Q: In what ways have you seen the teams change from Year One to Year Two? How have their skills developed? Any particular teams achieve outstanding/unique growth?
A: What has impressed me the most is how the teams continue to build upon the legacy of modeling, simulation and analysis expertise that they’ve developed at their schools over the years. Models are a fantastic way to capture the design intent and pass that knowledge along to future generations of students they may never even meet. Future generations can quickly look at the models and develop an abstract understanding of what the design is trying to accomplish. This just doesn’t work with hand written code. Furthermore, the use of multi-domain modeling for modeling the physical systems just wasn’t present in the competition until a few years ago. Rose-Hulman has been a pioneer in this area and has shared their ideas with the other teams by running sessions at our workshop in the fall.

Additionally, the incorporation of students from other disciplines (business, economics, marketing) that manage overall projects or develop the teams’ outreach programs. Some of the teams’ outreach programs are rich with various social media exposure, high school and elementary school interactions, tremendous web presences and the list goes on. As any member of a major automotive OEM knows, it’s not just about the math and science. Successfully building and operating in a team environment is essential to getting things done. This has been a great growth area.

Q: As we enter the final year of the challenge, what advice do you have for the students? What challenges lie ahead that they might not be anticipating?
A: Year Two was about getting the vehicle to move. Year Three is all about refinement. It is key to keep using simulation to validate new ideas to refine the controls or hardware or to add on new degrees of control freedom. You can break the vehicle in simulation as often as you want, but you can only break the physical vehicle once!

I would also suggest that the student engineers take full advantage of the offers for support and mentorship from the sponsors. These are industry experienced engineers that have learned from the school of hard knocks. A smart student will learn from their own mistakes, a wise one will learn from others’ mistakes.

Q: What’s next for MathWorks and EcoCAR?
A: We are actively planning the details of the EcoCAR Fall Workshop: September 29 – October 3, 2010 to be held at our campus in Natick, MA. We will offer a three track learning solution to accommodate new comers and old timers alike. We’re also planning some things just for the faculty advisors to help them on their quest to integrate the concepts of Model-Based Design into their classroom and curriculum.

We’ll continue to provide the resources of our mentors to the teams and we are looking forward to supporting the future of Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions as those plans come together.

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