Where Are They Now: University of Waterloo’s Michael Giannikouris

This post was written by University of Waterloo graduate, Michael Giannikouris, on his experience in Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions, including EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge.

In 2009, I started a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. My degree supervisors, Dr. Roydon Fraser and Dr. Michael Fowler, were also the faculty advisors for the University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team. When I came in on the first day they didn’t have office space for me, so Dr. Fraser suggested that I “hang around” the garage where the team worked.

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Giannikouris (first row, second from right) with the University of Waterloo team during the Year Three competition during EcoCAR 1

The team was just starting the second year of EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge, which is the vehicle build year, so it was an exciting time to get involved. It took a few weeks to “learn the ropes” but I soon found myself spending every day (and night) in that garage and getting involved in anything I could get my hands on. From taking apart the car to modeling the battery pack to designing the cooling systems, I wanted to know how everything was done. Once I got a taste of the electrical and controls side of things, I was hooked. I spent the third year wiring electrical systems, writing powertrain control code, and working as the team captain.

After EcoCAR, I stayed in Waterloo and joined a local company called CrossChasm Technologies. The company had been formed years earlier by other AVTC graduates and seemed like a perfect fit. At CrossChasm, I work on various control system projects, including a series of remote-controlled robotic rovers that are a lot of fun. I’m also a developer for the company’s FleetCarma data logging hardware, which is used to monitor energy, emissions, and usage data for conventional, hybrid, and electric vehicles.

I don’t think I can overstate how valuable my AVTC experience has been. I found a passion for a field of engineering that had previously been unknown to me. I’ve been able to combine my mechanical engineering training with my interest in computer software and apply them in interesting and hugely rewarding applications.

Giannikouris (third from left) during the EcoCAR Winter Workshop in Daytona Beach

Giannikouris (third from left) during the EcoCAR Winter Workshop in Daytona Beach

I’ve benefited a lot from working with some really great people including EcoCAR team members, faculty advisors, AVTC organizers, and competition sponsors. The people involved in AVTCs are genuinely enthusiastic about what they do, and I count myself lucky to have been able to benefit from their knowledge and guidance.

EcoCAR has helped me learn to take on new challenges, to revel in the unknown, and to always find (sometimes creative) ways to get the job done. But like anything in life you only get out of it what you put in. Being heavily involved in EcoCAR was a lot of work (my wife had to join the team just to be able to spend time with me!), but it was 100% worth it. It’s really important to take advantage of the opportunities that AVTCs have to offer, because I don’t think that there are many other experiences that can compare.

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