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EcoCAR at CAVS

MSU engineering students earn national awards in EcoCAR competitions

By BECKY GILLETTE

Students from Mississippi State University (MSU) are working on some of the most important automotive engineering problems of today by participating in the national EcoCAR3 competition that challenges teams from 16 universities in North America to be the most efficient and innovative in improving hybrid vehicle energy efficiency while reducing emissions and maintaining performance.

The competition in mid-May will be the fourth EcoCAR advanced vehicle technology competition (AVTC) for MSU. The competition is primarily sponsored by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy, with others sponsors such as software, hardware and automotive companies donating equipment, funds and expertise to help the teams.

“Our EcoCAR teams are on the cutting edge of technology,” said EcoCAR alumni Matthew Doude, program manager-powertrain engineering and business development officer for the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS) at MSU. “For example, circa 2010 we developed a way to improve vehicle efficiency through the way we controlled the two electric motors driving the front and rear wheels. We also developed a 13-inch touchscreen infotainment system which allowed you to control nearly everything in the vehicle. Both of those technologies are found in today’s production Tesla vehicles.”

Today Doude manages a number of projects relating to hybrid and autonomous driving technology. He says his current career trajectory is entirely because of the start he got with EcoCAR.

“Wherever my career takes me, I’m not sure I will ever work on another project as rewarding as my time on Mississippi State’s EcoCAR team,” Doude said. “I made friends, some of whom are still my best friends today. I learned how to be a leader. And, of course, we won some championships. For 12 years now, other schools have been chasing the maroon car, and we don’t plan on that stopping anytime soon.”

The final competition for the second year of the EcoCAR3 program will be held May 15-27. The vehicle is being shipping to the Desert Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz., for testing that will last about a week with the second half of the competition in San Diego, Calif., involving the presentation of papers. All teams received a 2016 Camero to improve.

In the 26-year history of the DOE competitions, MSU has established all-time winning records such as the highest score ever recorded at any competition, the highest fuel economy, and the fastest acceleration.

“The team has brought home four first place wins during the years in which we have competed,” said Dr. G. Marshall Molen, P.E., Ergon Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering & Leader of Vehicle Integration at CAVS. “I recall that 12 years ago when we first entered the DOE AVTCs, we were considered by many to be the underdog and not taken by many as a serious contender. Our students quickly demonstrated their engineering skills and their tenacity for winning.

“Even more important, other competing universities and employers learned that MSU students are outstanding young professionals who are recognized for their ethical conduct. It was not unusual that others would applaud our students when the MSU vehicles performed in competitions. In a sense of fair play, MSU team members would assist other teams when components broke during competitions.”

Molen consider the highlight of his professional career to serve as the faculty advisor for the MSU teams that competed in Challenge X, EcoCAR, and EcoCAR2.

“I oftentimes referred to myself as their cheerleader as our students were self-starters and required minimal assistance from me,” he said. “I recall that prior to our entry into the AVTC competitions, few automakers recruited at MSU. Today, it is a much different situation as MSU team members are in considerable demand.”

The faculty advisor for EcoCAR3, Dr. Randy Follett, associate professor, MSU Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said being involved in the latest technology for improving hybrid vehicle efficiency is not only exciting for students, but also provides the kind of experience helpful in landing a job after graduation.

“The purpose of the competition is to get different universities involved in developing technology that can improve automotive technology and train students to work in the industry in the future,” Follett said. “GM and lots of other companies recruit heavily from the teams. They pay attention to who is graduating this year and talk to them. We had a student last year who graduated in December 2015 and in January he had a job offer from GM already. They were that impressed with him. It is a really good training ground for students.”

About 100 students have signed up to be on the team. Not all are real active, but everyone gets some opportunity to participate and learn things about working on vehicles and doing all the computer work, simulation and design work that is necessary to put it all together.

The program also dovetails well with providing employees for the state’s growing automobile manufacturing industry. The competition gives students the opportunity to learn how to work on a multi- disciplinary team. In addition to engineering, team members from biology, business and communications majors are also team members.

“When students go out into the real world and are put on a team in a company, they are not always working with people just like themselves,” Follett said. “This provides good training for that, which is one of the things companies like. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology is very interested in us doing this kind work where students participate on multi-disciplinary teams. Engineering skills are important, but teamwork, communication skills and being able to manage other people are the icing on the cake. When someone is technically very competent, and also able to be a leader, communicator and good team worker right out from college, companies don’t have to train them as much on all of that.”

More information is available at www.ecoCARchallenge.org and photos are available at http://archive.ecocarphoto.com.

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