The engineering and interface design behind the UW’s EcoCAR 2
The UW EcoCAR 2 started as a Chevy Malibu body last year and now contains parts from eleven different cars including a biodiesel engine imported from Europe. The team hopes to make the car street legal by the end of the year.
The UW EcoCAR 2 started as a Chevy Malibu body last year and now contains parts from eleven different cars including a biodiesel engine imported from Europe. The team hopes to make the car street legal by the end of the year.Photo by Joshua Bessex
The UW EcoCAR 2 team is finishing its overhaul of a new car before shipping it out for initial performance tests. In order to make the most energy-efficient, plug-in hybrid possible, the team has carefully implemented designs developed through years of work.
“Since it ships out so soon, we’re nearly there,” said Tyler Rose, communications manager and MBA candidate at the Foster School of Business. “We’ve taken out the interior and prepared the battery cells, which will go in back, to power the electric motor.”
The car will run on an electric motor until its range is exhausted and then supplement with a diesel engine, which is powered by a standard car battery, similarly to how the Chevy Volt functions. The UW EcoCAR 2 team is taking a Chevrolet Malibu 2013 model and outfitting it with the electric motor and backup diesel engine. However, beyond simply replacing the engine, the team spent the better part of 10 months modeling and simulating hardware in order to produce the most fuel-economical vehicles possible. The past few months consisted of rendering those designs in reality.
“That was the bulk of the work last year,” Rose said. “The engine and motor, which are pretty unique, can be easy to install. One thing that’s different and holding us up is mapping the connections.”
The challenge of wiring in a modern vehicle — especially a hybrid that has to meet rigorous fuel-economy standards — is complex enough without the necessity of meeting the competition’s standards.
“We can’t get the engine in there until we get schematics,” Rose said. “Once we have those, we begin putting the parts in.”
Not all parts are gratis from corporate sponsors — for example, the custom-made frame.
Now, since nearly everything the team needed to make and have shipped is assembled, testing and implementation can occur. Then the initial battery of tests in a few weeks will follow, before the return of the car for final preparations, and the year-end competition in May at the General Motors Proving Grounds (where all new cars are tested) in Yuma, Ariz.
“What we do in the run-up is evaluate individual pieces,” said Trevor Crain, engineering team co-lead. “We have everything wired and working on the bench. We set up all these things in advance so when we put it in the car, it’ll work.”
Some kinks could occur in the actual process, but most difficulties can be anticipated by such testing, mainly because much of the actual work is crafting the right hardware. In order to achieve fuel-economy, maintain driver safety, and make driving the car as enjoyable an experience as possible, a host of different programs have to direct the electric motor in conjunction with the diesel engine, monitor fuel consumption and performance, provide lighting, cooling, and perform many more functions.
“We’ve run these programs, and used hardware in the loop to simulate driving dynamics outside the car,” Crain said. “Then we’ll stock the interior, put in a touchscreen for the driver, and our own proprietary user interface.”
After retooling the hardware and wiring connections, the user interface is where the energy saving really occurs. Employing their own software programs and working with QNX Software Systems as well as Free Scale semiconductors, members of the UW EcoCAR 2 team have been designing music apps, climate control, and diagnostics, all through an innovative user interface.
“The primary goals are making it cooler, safer, more intuitive, and green,” said Mitchell Loeppky, a junior in computer engineering. “The way a car is driven has huge impacts on its efficiency.”
Loeppky and other students like Carli Kent, a design major, focused on crafting an interface that doesn’t require much attention, prioritizing safety. For example, they used different textures across controls, enabling the driver to switch from diagnostics to playlists to particular songs in a single swipe. In addition, the interface will have features informing the driver of fuel efficiency, slope measurement, the effect of braking, accelerating, and so on.
“It’s very multidisciplinary,” Loeppky said. “We’re solving real-world problems here, focusing on all aspects of the project. We get to work with real companies and professionals.”
Such experience is the primary goal of the entire EcoCAR 2 competition, along with giving students from all backgrounds a chance to garner practical experience, land internships and jobs, and contribute to education and industries.
“What’s going to happen after this car is finished,” Rose said, “is he [Loeppky] is going to get an awesome job, and that’s really what this is all about … environmental issues, a consumer-focused product, and getting students into a professional experience.”
Reach reporter Garrett Black at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @garrettjblack
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