Sponsor Success Thursdays: Freescale Partnership Helps Penn State Build Future Vehicles and Future Engineers

Smartphones, medical monitoring equipment, grocery store registers, personal music players, tablets and handheld video games all have one thing in common: touch screens allowing users more efficiency and usability than ever before. But how can this be applied to the EcoCAR 2 competition?

The Pennsylvania State University Advanced Vehicle Team has been participating in advanced vehicle technology competitions since 1988. In this timeframe, the team has designed and built a variety of vehicle architectures to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The team’s forward-thinking engineers have built them from the ground up with state of the art software and tools aligned with industry demands on lower petroleum usage and dependence.

The PSU AVT can use its skills and prior knowledge to help the world’s population drive sustainable cars, but how will consumers be drawn to buy these innovative automobiles? The answer lies with the national EcoCAR 2 sponsor Freescale, a global leader in embedded processing solutions and a platinum-level sponsor that has supported advanced vehicle technology competitions for the past 14 years.

This year, Freescale has provided the Penn State team with products geared toward the consumer acceptability aspect of the competition. Consumer acceptability in the areas of safety, utility and performance is one of three pillars of the competition, in addition to fuel reduction and training the next generation of automotive engineers.

Throughout Year One, the Penn State controls group is primarily in charge of modeling and simulating the new hybrid architecture of the modified 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, which will be delivered in early summer. The group has also begun the first stages of implementing a radio interface, navigation and GPS interface, and a battery interface with Freescale’s donated products.

This year, Freescale has given Penn State one i.MX 53 Quick Start Board, which functions like a miniature PC. The company also gave the team an i.MX 53 Center Stack Development Board, along with the SABRE system for Android, Linux, Windows Compact 7 platforms. This hardware supports QNX, a brand new EcoCAR 2 sponsor for the center stack development initiative. The team also received a touch screen panel to practice on and then implement into the car, which can be hooked up to the dSpace to view vehicle processes.

“We have multiple boards because this is an incremental learning process,” said co-team leader Luke Shepley. “The Quick Start board is used to teach the team how to work with LTIB and the i.MX platform, while the larger board is used to introduce the concepts of interfacing with the vehicle components through CAN and a touch screen interface.”

The Penn State controls group is currently making the SABRE Board work with Linux and Android. “After all of our trials, it felt great to successfully set up the environment variables to boot up the Linux system,” said Meng Jin, a controls group member.

One major lesson the team has learned is how to boot up the Linux system with the provided Low Voltage Differential Signaling (LVDS) display panel. The team is planning to use the two CAN channels on the i.MX53 SABRE board to utilize the infotainment system CAN communication capability.

Through the whole process, Freescale employees have stood by the team’s side, educating members about the new technology and offering troubleshooting help. Penn State engineers have had constant access to Freescale employees through an onlinecommunityboard. This forum allowed the team’s engineers to get thorough, timely answers and build relationships with industry professionals who use this technology everyday.  In addition to the community board, Freescale showed its commitment to the PSU AVT and EcoCAR 2 as a whole by opening up its facilities and mentoring students during Winter Workshop in Austin, Texas.

“The kind of experience gained in these AVTC competitions is really valuable for the industry. We have students that have the ability to solve hands on problems, to solve problems on time and on a budget,” said John Cotner, field applications engineer at Freescale Semiconductor. “EcoCAR is really a great example of this.”

Cotner explained the need for students who have experience working with complex embedded systems, software, modern operating systems, and advanced graphics. “Students who have the ability to work with these kinds of technologies will be in real demand in the future in the automotive electronics industry,” he said.

That is one of the reasons Freescale is partnering with the PSU AVT at the Freescale Cup in Happy Valley on Saturday, April 21. The Freescale Cup is a competition in which university students build an autonomous model race car and compete for the fastest time. The Freescale Cup is a chance to learn about electrical engineering (circuitry, interfacing and software design) and mechanical engineering (control theory) as well as sharpen communication and teamwork skills, again showing Freescale’s dedication to training the next generation of innovators and builders.

Thanks to Freescale’s involvement in the Freescale Cup and EcoCAR 2, students can take what they learn in class and apply it to real world situations. The freescale center stack project covers  a lot of popular computer science and engineering topics, such as operation system, custom toolchain compiler and real time controls. Many students wouldn’t have access to this technology without the company’s assistance.

Through the rest of Year One, the team plans to finalize their initial prototype of their Center Stack design and test it utilizing their dSpace hardware-in-the-loop device. In Year Two, the team will integrate the 10 inch touch screen panel and i.MX53 board into the Center Stack and test it in Malibu’s CAN BUS. In Year Three, the team will ensure the panel and software are running at their optimal level that provide an enjoyable and dependable drive experience.

“We’re off to a running start with our Freescale Center Stack initiative thanks to Freescale’s great support and products available to us student engineers,” said Shepley. “This competition is fast-paced, but the most rewarding project I can imagine being a part of. I can’t wait to see our progress in the future.”