By NATHAN GREGORY
Mississippi State University EcoCAR 2 team students observed the culmination of their hard work over the past year Thursday and looked forward to next week, when they’ll travel to Los Angeles to put it to the test.
In a send-off celebration at the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, students were wished the best of luck in their upcoming competition against 14 other student-led university teams across the country to present re-engineering plans for a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. The plans are designed to make the vehicle a hybrid that can run on electrical power.
The MSU EcoCAR2 team is competing against teams from the University of Tennessee, Penn State University, Purdue University and University of Washington among others.
EcoCAR 2 Outreach Coordinator Lee Pratt said the team is in the first year of a three-year process to build a production-ready hybrid. Students focus on designing the vehicle in year one before working on implementation and refinement in years two and three.
“The year we are currently in is all about design and simulation. We build (Computer Aided Drafting and Design) models to figure out exactly how to implement our design. What we’re doing today is celebrating the work we’ve done and recognizing the local sponsors and all the support they’ve shown us throughout our entire involvement of advanced technology competition and this particular EcoCAR 2 competition,” Pratt said. “We’re leaving on May 17 to go to final competitions and give presentations on the work we’ve done in several different categories. We’ll give presentations for our electrical and controls design on our vehicle. We’ll give a trade show presentation that tests our knowledge of the design as well as our ability to convey that design to multiple audiences … There will be an awards ceremony, and we hope we bring a lot of trophies back.”
Tom Goddette, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, worked with the team that designed the first EcoCAR and said the team is ahead of where it was at the same point in the previous competition.
“We’ve used what we’ve done in the first year of EcoCAR and been able to translate it very well to this year’s design phase. It’s gone much more smoothly. The biggest part about these competitions is it’s designed to emulate the same design process (General Motors) uses when designing a car you drive every day,” Goddette said. “In addition to that, we get hands-on experience you can’t teach in a classroom. We have access to industry-level software and hardware that you wouldn’t have access to unless you go for work for these companies. It gives us this awesome experience and training these companies can use (and) makes us extremely desirable to these companies.”
Another graduate student, Johnathan Moore, is the group leader for the electrical and control portions of the design process. He first joined during the third year the team was putting the finishing touches on the first EcoCAR, and said he’s enjoyed the process of putting together a finalized product as well as putting together the nuts and bolts of what will become a better car.
“I think one of the main differences between the EcoCAR 2 and the EcoCAR is with the EcoCAR we’re using a pre-transmission engine running series parallel, which means we can run power from our engine or our motor or both … whereas the the EcoCAR 2 is a series, so only the electric motor can drive the vehicle, and it’s a single fixed gear ratio. You increase your (revolutions per minute) as you go faster and faster as opposed to being able to shift and try and stay inside of your motor’s optimal RPM torque range,” Moore said. “I’m interested to see (the EcoCAR 2 design) get implemented because so much of what you do in the beginning influences the end. (That’s) not just as far as your performance and results, but when you build the car, if someone designs in such a way that is not the best way to start, you come in later and join the project and you have to live with what they’ve done. The wiring, laying out and how you document everything is important.”
Rachel Wheeler, who is working on her Ph. D. in mechanical engineering, said she hopes to work in the automotive industry and feels her work with the EcoCAR 2 team will give her an eventual advantage in the job market.
“Having an experience like this in a competition (and) being able to go through a design process and the phases of development is invaluable experience, especially with hybrid vehicles and all the technology software and equipment that we’re able to utilize and is donated for us to put in this car,” Wheeler said. “I wouldn’t get that experience anywhere else.”
Freshman mechanical engineering student Wesley Haney said he followed the first EcoCAR competition when he was in high school and has worked with CADD software to integrate the car’s components during the design process. He will be interning this summer with A123 Systems, the lithium ion battery manufacturer that donated the battery for the original EcoCAR.
“I’ve done a lot of computer aided design this year on the new car — integrating components and trying to find all the places for the components before we get the car,” he said. “It really helps to have a good game plan when we do get the car so we can get all those components in there faster, on time and correctly. We’ve drawn every little thing in the computer and made sure every piece fits.”