Seeking to build off its second-place finish in the final year of the EcoCAR 3 competition, the team from West Virginia University was one of 12 to be selected for the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge, which will feature the 2019 Chevrolet Blazer as the vehicle platform.
The EcoCAR Mobility Challenge is four-year Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, General Motors and The MathWorks, and managed by Argonne National Laboratory. Students are challenged to increase vehicle efficiency by developing connected and automated vehicle – or CAV – technologies and implementing advanced propulsion systems and electrification. The goal is to reduce energy consumption while maintaining the performance, safety and overall sporty design and feel of the original vehicle, specifically for a carsharing market.
“The WVU team is excited to be selected for the new EcoCAR competition, and we look forward to the new challenges we will face in redesigning and electrifying the Blazer powertrain and in developing advanced CAVs technologies to Level 2 automation,” said Team Lead Faculty Advisor Andrew Nix, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. “We want to build on the success achieved in the EcoCAR 3 competition and hope to make the College and University proud!”
The WVU team is made up of students from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, Reed College of Media and College of Business and Economics. In addition to Nix, faculty advisors include CAV faculty lead Vinod Kulathumani from the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering and Scott Wayne from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
By exploring innovative CAV technologies and implementing advanced propulsion systems, the team will be appealing to an emerging Mobility as a Service shared-mobility vehicle market. Carsharing, one of the emerging MaaS applications, enables consumers to access a spectrum of innovative mobility solutions featuring new connected and automated vehicle technologies that hold the promise of transforming mobility.
“Vehicle connectivity, sensing and automation represent some of the most significant and disruptive changes in the automotive industry in the past 20 years,” said Kulathumani. “The fact that our students get to design and integrate these cutting-edge technologies into a real-world system presents an immense career opportunity for them.”
“This will also be a project where students from computer science and electrical engineering will work very closely with their colleagues from mechanical and aerospace engineering,” Kulathumani continued. “This will provide them with valuable lessons in communication across disciplines. The smart sensing systems are not just stand-alone, but they will end up impacting the safety and efficiency of the mechanical control systems. The designs have to be tightly integrated.”
Divided into four academic years, each year introduces new challenges and objectives, following the vehicle development process to design, integrate and refine vehicles into reliable, energy-efficient mobility systems.
“The first year of the Challenge is a critical year where the team must make various foundational decisions that will shape the course of the remainder of the competition,” Nix said. “Activities include identifying a set of vehicle technical specifications and selecting propulsion and CAV system components and architectures, all of which will be locked in once approved by the organizers.”
Years two through four of the competition will bring together teams and their vehicles for competitions that demonstrate hybrid functionality, CAV and other connectivity technologies in their vehicles. In year four, teams are expected to demonstrate fully refined hybrid propulsion and CAV systems that meet their customer market expectations. The competition culminates with an over-the-road event that demonstrates the robustness and energy efficiency of the vehicle.
In addition to the Chevrolet Blazer, GM will supply each team with $20,000 in seed money, along with options for powertrain components and batteries and extensive technical support and mentoring. The WVU team will again be mentored by four-time WVU alum Bill Cawthorne, senior manager for GM’s Advanced Engineering Global Transmission and Electrification. Cawthorne was recently named “Most Loyal Alumni” during WVU’s 2018 Mountaineer Week.
“The contribution of technical expertise, as well as team motivation, that our GM mentor provides is invaluable,” Nix said. “Bill has a passion for helping lead the WVU team and has been a major factor in our success over the past four years.”
Joining WVU in the competition are teams from Colorado State, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical, Georgia Tech, McMaster, Mississippi State, Ohio State, Alabama, Tennessee, Washington, Waterloo and Virginia Tech.
WVU has a long history of involvement in student automotive competitions, which have served as a proving ground for engineering graduates looking to enter the workforce.
“Over the past four years, WVU has been fortunate to place 13 students at General Motors, as well as many additional students with other automotive development and support companies,” said Nix. “We hope to place more students into positions at GM over the next four years, in addition to opportunities with other competition sponsors.”
Now in its 30th year, the Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition series places a strong emphasis on providing hands-on, real-world experience to the next generation of engineers and business leaders, with emphasis on practical expertise in electrification and autonomous controls, automotive mechatronics, connected and automated vehicle technologies and other critical engineering disciplines.