Throughout the years that I have worked in the automotive and engineering industries, public concern over limited natural resources and environmental impact related to motor vehicle use have resulted in ever more stringent emission and fuel economy legislation. Engineers have reacted to legislative requirements by pursuing the option of using multiple energy sources as a way of reducing overall impact.
The stated mission of EcoCar is to find new ways to reduce the environmental impact of motor vehicles and prepare future engineering leaders for that task by providing them with industrial experience in the application of state-of-art tools and processes required to design and field prototype hybrid vehicles that meet the goals of EcoCar.
Over the last 10 years that I have been involved with EcoCar and its earlier forms, it has been very gratifying to see that the gap between industry and university practice in hybrid development has narrowed significantly, due in part to General Motors’ (GM) requirement that EcoCAR students follow the GM development process with existing refined subsystems as a starting-point.
Students are successfully using Model-Based Design tools to develop complex large-scale control systems, making many subsystems work together. In the near future, it is my hope that we can move beyond this level and into a new phase where subsystems play optimally together, first through thorough and uniform application of numerical optimization to offline simulation models, and later to the application of embedded real-time optimizers that lead to optimal performance in real-world driving conditions. One or more existing production hybrids already have effective embedded optimizers, so it will not be a surprise to see the majority of EcoCar teams in the future with such capabilities.
The continued adoption of industrial control design tools and processes into university curriculums across subject areas will better reflect the reality that today’s engineered systems are inherently multi-discipline, and provide industry with engineering leaders ready to meet the difficult control design challenges we face.