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AutomationDesk Training Aids Virginia Tech Students in Testing Major Vehicle Components

 Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineering Seniors Randall Morcom (left) and Martin Mock.

April 5, 2013: Students from the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT) at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) are utilizing dSPACE’s AutomationDesk to create test sequences for the major components of a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu.
The students are participating in EcoCAR 2, a three-year collegiate student engineering competition sponsored by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy. They are refining the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu into a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, with the end goal of reducing emissions and fuel consumption.
Randall Morcom and Martin Mock, both seniors at Virginia Tech majoring in mechanical engineering, are members of the HEVT controls sub-team. They recently participated in a two-day AutomationDesk training class held at dSPACE North American headquarters in Wixom, MI, to learn about test automation and test management utilizing the AutomationDesk tool.
AutomationDesk is a powerful, front-end tool for automated hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) testing of application software or diagnostic functions of electronic control units (ECUs). The tool provides libraries containing a large number of predefined test steps (e.g. for a Failure Insertion Unit (FIU) to calibration or diagnostics software).
“Neither of us had much exposure to AutomationDesk, so the training was very helpful in introducing us to the basics of using the software to automate testing,” said Morcom. “Training taught us how to create tests using AutomationDesk, and we have since utilized the concepts and tricks we learned to make specific test sequences more useful.”
“Our team is now benefiting from a more robust and capable test framework within AutomationDesk,” added Mock. “The framework that we were able to create as a result of what we learned in training can now be used to test the major vehicle components in an effective and organized manner.”
With MATLAB/Simulink, the HEVT is able to simulate a vehicle model and controller algorithm against each other. The team is making use of the test sequences created in AutomationDesk to simulate worst case scenarios and perform fault analysis. By taking a vehicle component (e.g. engine, rear traction motor, energy storage system, etc.) to its limit (overheating, over speed, over voltage, etc.) via AutomationDesk, the team can monitor how the control code algorithm mitigates faults. Besides fault analysis, the team can also create test sequences for performance evaluation. For example, through the use of AutomationDesk, the accelerator pedal can be "floored" to determine the 0-60mph time.
Prior to receiving the training, the team didn't have much experience working with AutomationDesk. Morcom said only three engineering students on the team had ever touched the software before and there had been no formal training. It was difficult for the team to create test sequences that utilized the full functionality of AutomationDesk. The test sequences that were being built were long and bulky, and errors took a long time to solve.

Morcom said he and Mock were able to bring back the knowledge they learned from AutomationDesk training to benefit the rest of the team. The team has now built a test framework that will be used for all future test sequences created. Morcom said the team's previous test sequences were inefficient, but now that we know the full capabilities of this powerful software, the tests for its vehicle are much more flexible, effective, and useful.

Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineering Seniors Randall Morcom (left) and Martin Mock learned about test automation and test management after participating in a two-day dSPACE AutomationDesk training class.

“Our training experience was informative, and the small class size made it very comfortable for us to ask questions specific to our team's needs,” said Mock. “The first day of training gave us a basic understanding of the software. After diving deeper into AutomationDesk in day 2, we feel confident applying the more advanced functions in our testing.”

Currently, the HEVT team is busy preparing for the EcoCAR 2 year two competition finals to be held in May 2013. This first year of the competition was focused on design. This year is the build year. And next year, team activities will center on vehicle refinement.
The HEVT team is comprised of 24 mechanical engineering seniors, who have been assigned to work on mechanical, electrical and controls sub-teams. The team also includes communications and business students. For more information, visit
“We are looking forward to a busy and challenging time ahead,” said Mock. “Testing will take place soon, and we will utilize AutomationDesk to ensure that we are competitive in May. After a first-place finish in Year 3 of EcoCAR 1 (the prior competition to EcoCAR 2), our team is anxious to reproduce that success again!”