Engineering Students Design Cars of the Future in EcoCAR Challenge

Student engineers participating in EcoCAR are getting the opportunity to work with model-based design technologies with recent contributions from dSPACE, National Instruments, and The MathWorks. The hardware and software tools provided by the companies are helping 17 student teams design fuel-efficient cars of the future.

EcoCAR teams learn real-world automotive engineering practices through the use of model-based design and graphical system design technologies that include hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) and software-in-the-loop (SIL), which help to bring the students' vehicle visions from concept to the road. Students will unveil their final designs at a competition in Toronto that starts June 7, 2009.

Model-based design is a process that provides professional engineers with real-time, cost-effective simulation. In the competition, it enables the student engineering teams to test virtual versions of their vehicles before the actual designs are assembled. The technology serves as a crucial first step in the vehicular development by allowing students to calculate real-world conditions using advanced models--basically creating a virtual car. The EcoCAR students are working in teams to iterate on "what if" scenarios to validate their assumptions in a simulated environment to test hybrid controls strategies using SIL technology from The MathWorks and National Instruments. With their designs fully tested, they are trying out their work in HIL systems supplied by National Instruments and dSPACE.

Participants from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the Ohio State University teams have posted videos to YouTube explaining the EcoCAR project.

EcoCAR is a three-year competition that builds on the 20-year history of United States Department of Energy advanced vehicle technology competitions by giving engineering students the chance to design and build advanced vehicles that demonstrate leading-edge automotive technologies. General Motors provides production vehicles, vehicle components, seed money, technical mentoring, and operational support. The Energy Department and its research and development facility, Argonne National Laboratory, provide competition management, team evaluation, technical, and logistical support.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at

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