October 14, 2015
Automotive engineers are working to create cars that are energy efficient, safe for the user and compliant with industry and government requirements. To meet these demands, collaboration and the right development process is key. Beyond the main office, GM and engineering software companies are using these challenges to help educate the next generation of engineers with a little friendly competition.
The EcoCAR3 challenge was created to get university students involved in real-world engineering, and to bring innovation into the automotive industry. Over the course of several years, students involved in the initiative get the chance to design, simulate and produce a car that is light and efficient. This year, teams will have to implement advanced driver assistance systems in their vehicles and meet new cost constraints. In adding the new technology, GM hopes to push students to use their engineering skills for innovation. For more on the EcoCAR challenge, see DE‘s previous coverage here.
To learn more about the software and technology, student teams gathered at the competition’s Year Two Fall Workshop — hosted by MathWorks in Natick, MA, Sept. 29 to Oct. 3. The multi-track training gave teams the chance to interact directly with competition sponsors, get a look at competition deliverables and refresh themselves on Year Two competition rules. Training was also provided for software from MathWorks, dSPACE, Freescale, Siemens and others.
The objectives of the competition are to improve the efficiency of the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro, make it more sustainable and maintain consumer acceptance. “At GM, we are trying to develop the next generation of automotive engineers,” says James Kolhoff, global chief engineer and program manager, transmission controllers and powertrain electronics at GM. “We’re at a transition point now where students have spent the first year doing their design work on tools like MATLAB and Simulink to develop their develop their design, year two is where they develop their designs into physical parts. The point of this workshop is to give them the training they need to make that transition.”
Topics covered in the multi-day event included a host of technical information, safety, measurement, testing and non-engineering disciplines.
MathWorks Joins In
“MathWorks has been involved in this type of competition series, sponsored by the Department of Energy, for more than 15 years,” says Paul Smith, director of consulting services, MathWorks. “Our sponsorship has changed from software donation and small contributions to one that now [we] have multiple team members and engineers who act as mentors for the student teams. And of course, software is contributed to the main part of the competition for simulation. This is really the premiere competition that we sponsor.”
Because each team takes different approaches to meet competition requirements, it’s important to have a main software program that provides flexibility and a wide variety of resources. With a host of customizable toolboxes and specific add-on modules, MATLAB and Simulink offer an environment for students to try out multiple designs over the course of the competition. The company also hosts resources on its main site and MATLAB Central for participating individuals.
“What engineers are really good at is having ideas and trying them out. And what Simulink as a simulation environment does is gives them a playground where they can design some kind of system, put it through the computer and see how it will behave in the real world,” says Smith. “They can also rapidly go through ideas to get the one that they want to get into their hardware [with these programs].”
During the Fall Workshop, there’s also a dual-track training that’s centered around the software tools MathWorks provides the students, Smith says. Because teams experience a new influx of students every year, workshop attendees can get a basic overview of MathWorks software or dive into the nitty-gritty technical applications with MATLAB and Simulink. These advanced topics include optimization techniques, detailed engine and transmission control, and battery management.
Beyond the Software
Along with learning about new software skills, students are also getting a look at how industry standard workflows — such as Model-Based Design (MBD) — are applied to automotive applications. MathWorks’ programs support the philosophy in which a hierarchical system model is at the center of product development.
“As the complexity of the vehicles started to increase, engineers needed to come up with new ways to design systems. The old ‘try it, fix it, test it, try again’ [mentality] didn’t quite work,” says Smith. To address this, the automotive and aerospace industry generated MBD to effectively visualize systems and vehicles. By using MBD throughout the EcoCAR3 competition, “students are really being exposed to what the industry is already doing, and they’re being asked to replicate the product and development processes [used in industry]. It’s really built right into the program.”
But the real-world applications don’t stop at MBD. Kolhoff adds that participants also get a look at engineering “soft skills” such as time and project management, leadership skills and idea communication to help them gain the confidence for when they reach the real world. “In a microcosm of this competition, the student teams are [also] really getting experience in the challenges that are making real-world [automotive] systems,” he says. “We want to provide that baseline technical supports of donated components, software, training and mentorship, then let the students making those real-world systems.”
Below you’ll find a video about the EcoCAR3 Competition. Videos on MathWorks’ involvement can be found here.