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EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge Fuels Green Technologies for Cleaner, Sustainable Transportation

Published: February 12, 2009

Engineering students from 10 universities visited dSPACE Inc. January 21-22 and 24-25 for a deep-dive training session on dSPACE tools.

The students are participating in EcoCAR: The Next Challenge, a three-year vehicle engineering competition that gives students a unique learning opportunity to incorporate advanced eco-friendly technologies into a production vehicle prototype. A total of 17 North American universities are participating in the EcoCAR Challenge.

dSPACE, a platinum sponsor, has donated a suite of tools to help EcoCAR teams design and build advanced vehicles with leading-edge automotive technologies.

A key element of the students’ work is to develop new electronic control strategies for the vehicle architectures they design, hosted on a supervisory controller.

Strong emphasis is being placed on using best-practices methodology and tools in the development of these control algorithms. Students will incorporate model-based development, rapid prototyping, software-in-the-loop (SIL) simulation, and hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) simulation utilizing closed-loop plant models. This environment will enable students to implement complex control designs quickly, and to test them early against real-time simulations before being introduced to the actual vehicle.

Tools donated by dSPACE include:

  • MicroAutoBox rapid prototyping systems as supervisory controllers
  • dSPACE Simulators Mid-Size for testing new control algorithms
  • CalDesk for measurement and calibration of the dSPACE and non-dSPACE controllers
  • SystemDesk for planning, implementing and integrating complex system architectures and distributed software systems
  • TargetLink for automatic production-quality code generation

“We, at dSPACE, are very happy to be part of the EcoCAR competition,” said dSPACE Inc. Engineering Director Santhosh Jogi. “It’s an exciting opportunity to help develop future engineers who will undoubtedly play a role in the advances of automotive technology. The students also have a great opportunity in working with these state-of-the art tools. They will have the means to develop and deploy sophisticated control strategies in the same manner their industry counterparts do.”

In addition to providing tools, dSPACE has assembled a team of engineers to serve as dedicated trainers and technical mentors to EcoCAR teams utilizing dSPACE equipment.

“The recent training events were well-received,” said Jogi. “The students and faculty advisors worked hands-on with dSPACE tools, learning on the actual systems they will be receiving. The trainers and mentors had the schools go through exercises that were representative of the tasks they will face, from implementing control algorithms on MicroAutoBoxes, to using HIL simulators with full-vehicle models, defining test cases, and executing all of this in closed-loop. It was impressive how quickly the students grasped these advanced techniques, which is all the more indicative of their potential.”

“Being a mentor is a great chance for me to help the teams learn about development tools, while being a great opportunity for myself to stay abreast of the best practices in the industry and learn about the newest technologies,” said dSPACE Senior Applications Engineer Jim Hollowell, who is serving as a mentor to the Mississippi State University EcoCAR team on HIL simulation. “It’s exciting being part of a competition where everyone wins."

EcoCAR teams have been assembled at each participating university and the students are in the beginning stages of re-engineering a 2009 Saturn VUE compact crossover SUV. The student teams will incorporate green technologies – such as full-function electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell hybrid vehicle designs – that minimize energy consumption, emissions and greenhouse gases.

"The EcoCAR competition could not have happened at a better time,” said Hollowell. “The industry is at a crossroads where fuel economy, clean emissions, and customer satisfaction are forcing paramount changes to technology. Bringing the universities, industry and mentors together with this competition provides an exciting mix of past, present, and future engineering practices cooperating to deliver solutions to these challenges.”

At the conclusion of the three-year competition, the team that can most successfully build and demonstrate a production vehicle prototype that incorporates advanced eco-friendly technologies, while maintaining utility, safety and performance features, will earn the first place award.

General Motors and the DOE are headline sponsors of the EcoCAR Challenge. Argonne National Laboratory, a DOE research and development facility, is organizing and operating the EcoCAR Challenge. The Government of Canada (Transport Canada, Natural Resources Canada) is a diamond-level sponsor. Numerous other sponsors are also contributing to the program. For more information on EcoCAR, visit

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