Students Matt Nikkel, Hrusheekesh Warpe, Bowei Zhao, Karan Kant, and a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro like the one the HEVT team is turning into a hybrid electric vehicle.
The Virginia Tech Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team placed second in the EcoCAR 3 Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) held May16-26 at the General Motors Desert Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona, and San Diego, California.
Of the 16 competing universities, Virginia Tech was the only team to equip the Camaro with an eight-cylinder engine. In keeping with this election year, they appropriately dubbed it "Make EcoCAR V-8 Again."
Dawn of the hybrid muscle car
People who buy Camaros are usually looking for fast and furiousstereotypically, they're more concerned with horsepower than conserving power.
But the students working on the Virginia Tech Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT) are designing and building a hybrid option for those people who want a sleek, loud muscle car that doesn't guzzle gas.
"We're working on a V8 engine because we want to keep the torque and the roar while saving energy and boosting performance," said Matt Nikkel, a junior in computer engineering and a member of HEVT's Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) sub team.
HEVT competes in EcoCAR, a four-year competition sponsored by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy that challenges teams from 16 schools across the nation to create an innovative, cost-effective hybrid vehicle that maintains consumer acceptability and safety without sacrificing performance.
The HEVT students are among the first to work with a brand new NXP microcontroller board, which they will use to run their programs.
GM donated a conventional 2016 Chevrolet Camaro, and the team is converting it into a hybrid vehicle, said Hrusheekesh Warpe, a graduate student in computer engineering who works with the ADAS sub team.
The ADAS team, which is part of HEVT's electrical division, is using computer vision and artificial intelligence to save energy. They are currently working on a microcontroller-based stereovision system to detect objects and alert the driver of possible collisions.
By implementing principles of machine learning and computer vision, the stereovision group is training their system to identify cars, stop signs, license plates, and other traffic cues. They've been using object identification algorithms, including cascade object detectors and template algorithms, to draw meaning out of the images recorded by the camera.
"By warning the driver to start braking early, we hope to recover some of the electrical energy that would be lost during hard braking," explained Nikkel.
The students are using a brand-new NXP microcontroller board to run their prototype programs.
The initial software for the board, which was donated to them by NXP, had some bugs. Instead of waiting for the latest firmware, the ADAS team decided to tackle it themselves.
"After reading code and moving through a couple thousand files, we were able to turn on the board display and let the camera initialize and broadcast," said Bowei Zhao, a junior in computer engineering. "We're some of the few people in the world working on this boardit's very cool."
"What we're doing in HEVT isn't just college stuff," said Zhao. "We've been told that what we do here has future ramifications for how General Motors and the Department of Energy integrates these technologies, and it can affect how the world reacts to new technology in advanced vehicles."
The electric formula: getting up to speed
Neil Moloney (BSEE '17) and Danny Lloyd (BSEE 17) with prototypes of the car's systems. They are testing each system independently before assembling the vehicle.
The team has been testing the batteries it plans to use to understand their limitations.
As cars evolve to require more electrical systems and computerized components, automotive companies are looking to draw more electrical engineers into the fold. This trend is reflected in the annual international competition sponsored by SAE, an automotive engineering society, which challenges students to design, build, and test a Formula 1-style race car.Virginia Tech has competed for the past 28 years, and until recently, the team focused only on traditional gas cars.
But in 2013, the SAE competition added a new category in which the students build an electric Formula 1-style car. So this year, alongside its gas-powered vehicle, Virginia Tech will debut its prototype of an electric race car.
The entire team has nearly 100 members, about 10 of whom work predominantly on the electric team.
"It's a new thing, this electrification of the motor sports industry," said Danny Lloyd, a junior in electrical engineering who is working on the electrical powertrain sub team. "A lot of electrical engineers want to go into computer programming, but many don't realize that there's this whole field starting to grow in the automotive industry."
The team spent the past year retrofitting an old combustion car chassis, and when Brammo Inc., the American producer of electric traction motors and batteries for motorcycles, provided them with a preproduction model of its three-phase AC induction motor, progress kicked into high gear. The team expects to have a rolling vehicle this semester.
The resistor bank for the electric formula project uses resistors more than a foot long.
The low-voltage electric system, which monitors safety and powers the control systems, data acquisition, and dashboard indicators, is up and running. The high-voltage system includes a set of inverters and a motor controller, which work together to convert DC power from the batteries to three-phase AC power.
The team is still developing a safe way to mount the 100 V battery so drivers and mechanics are protected.
The tremendous effort students and mentors have put into this prototype is laying the groundwork for next year's team to manufacture an electric race car they can take to the summer 2017 competition.
As the prototype nears the finish line, the team is looking forward to seeing all the pieces come together as a finished vehicleand having a chance to drive it.