Introducing the “Engine” Behind UWAFT’s Vehicle Design

EcoCAR 2 Platinum-level sponsor dSPACE Inc. recently donated a Mid-Size Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) Simulator to the University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT) along with each of the other 14 teams competing in EcoCAR 2. dSPACE’s donation is an invaluable tool that helps develop vehicle controllers quickly and safely. UWAFT will use the HIL to test the supervisory controller, which will later be used on the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu.

The dSPACE Mid-Size HIL Simulator in UWAFT’s Garage

An HIL Simulator such as the one donated by dSPACE is used for testing automotive vehicle controllers systematically and automatically. Vehicles sold today typically have a dozen controllers. These include engine, transmission and anti-lock brake controllers, among many others. A tool that allows for systematic and automatic testing can save automakers and part suppliers millions of dollars; hence dSPACE’s HIL is critical to the development process.

So how does dSPACE’s HIL work? A model of a component is first programmed on a computer. For example, UWAFT programs its engine model using MathWorks’ MATLAB and SIMULINK. These models are then run in real-time on the dSPACE HIL. The engine controller is then connected to the HIL and tested. If the computer model of the engine is done correctly the engine controller cannot tell the difference between the HIL engine and the real engine.

The neat part of the engine system is automation. UWAFT can program a series of tests on HIL and see how the engine controller will react. For example, the HIL can simulate an engine overheating or a low oil situation.  If the engine controller is programmed correctly, it should shut down the engine to prevent damage. Using this testing method is much cheaper than breaking an actual engine, and therefore saves companies millions of dollars – and UWAFT a few broken engines!

The other benefit of the HIL is that concepts can be tested before being implemented on the actual vehicle. This allows UWAFT team members to test various cutting-edge ideas without the risk of damaging expensive prototype components. Overall the use of the Mid-Size HIL Simulator will enable UWAFT to safely integrate and implement a vehicle controller, resulting in a quicker and better design than would have been impossible without dSPACE’s invaluable donation!