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Instrument provider helps students design green cars

National Instruments (NI) has contributed US$300,000 worth of products to help the US Department of Energy (DOE) run a competition for students to design and engineer ‘green’ vehicles that emit reduced amounts of waste into the atmosphere.

NI is a platinum sponsorship of the three-year EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge competition, which challenges students to re-engineer a 2009 Saturn VUE with advanced technology to reduce environmental impact while retaining consumer appeal.

The $300,000 product donation from NI will be the ninth consecutive year that the company has sponsored the DOE competition series with equipment and cash donations. Teams that receive NI systems will also receive ongoing training and support from NI engineers.

The $300,000 worth of engineering hardware and software includes NI LabVIEW graphical system design software, CompactRIO in-vehicle embedded control systems and PXI modular simulation systems.

Teams will use these tools to design, prototype and deploy their vehicles and tackle the unique algorithm engineering challenges associated with developing advanced hybrid vehicles, says NI.

“In this first year of competition, NI LabVIEW software and PXI hardware will prove especially useful while teams focus on the modeling, simulation and testing of their control strategies,” competition organiser, Argonne National Laboratory, director of advanced vehicle technology, Kristen De La Rosa.

“Additionally, NI equipment will help teams through the entire multiyear process because students can continue using this single development environment and NI hardware as a platform for bringing their vehicle designs to life.”

The competition is based upon “real-world automotive engineering practices that emphasise a model-based design approach,” says NI. Students will focus on the vehicle design and modelling in the first year, during which selected teams will use NI PXI hardware and the LabVIEW Real-Time Module to develop hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) simulations of their vehicles. These HIL simulations will serve as virtual vehicles on which teams can test and validate advanced in-vehicle hybrid system controllers before the actual vehicle designs are assembled.

Students will use NI CompactRIO embedded controllers with LabVIEW as well as systems from other sponsors to implement control models that will optimize the interaction between electric motors, combustion engines and energy storage systems.

When teams receive actual vehicles in the second year of competition, they will be able to integrate their controllers into those vehicles with minimal effort. At the end of years two and three, students will use their reengineered Saturn VUE vehicles to compete in a weeklong series of competitions for proving-grounds testing and technical evaluation in a number of key categories including fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions, dynamic performance, consumer acceptability and engineering practices.

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