Designing a vehicle can be a very difficult task. Just ask General Motors (GM) a company that employs thousands of highly-skilled engineers who design each and every aspect of the vehicle that you drive. Now, imagine designing a vehicle with less than a hundred university students. This is the challenge that the University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT) faced when researching and designing its EcoCAR 2 vehicle. Luckily for UWAFT, much of the preliminary design work was already done by GM – leaving UWAFT responsible for redesigning the powertrain.
Redesigning the powertrain is still a challenging task considering that many students have never worked on a vehicle before; tools were needed to help make the task easier. That is where the MathWorks’ MATLAB software came in. MathWorks donated its powerful MATLAB, Simulink and Stateflow software to UWAFT. This software, along with Argonne National Laboratory’s Autonomie allowed UWAFT team members to virtually build and test various powertrains. The tests conducted on these software models included acceleration of the vehicle, fuel consumption estimations, thermal analysis and much more. These models could also be pushed to their maximum limit and be ‘broken’ in the software world. This is much more cost-effective and safer than breaking physical prototypes. The resulting powertrain that UWAFT selected was a Series Plug-In Hybrid with two electric traction motors.
The real beauty of MATLAB and Simulink actually comes after the architecture selection stage. Simulink, which is a graphical block diagramming tool, can also be used to program the vehicle controllers. This means that students do not need to learn another programming language and can easily transfer models developed in the powertrain selection stage to the controller development stage, thus saving time and money. MATLAB can also be used to analyze large amounts of data by using automated scripts. These scripts can quickly analyze hundreds of hours’ worth of drive cycles and allow students to quickly quantify vehicle performance. From saving time and money during the modeling selection phase, to quickly analysing experimental data, MathWorks’ tools made UWAFT’s job much easier!