Spring is here in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and the innovative EcoCAR competition is well underway.
The University of Alabama (UA) team is working hard to ensure a successful third year of the four-year competition. With about 100 participants, the team is moving forward with the work they were assigned by the Department of Energy, General Motors, and Argonne National Laboratory.
WHAT THE COMPETITION IS
The University of Alabama team is competing against teams from eleven other universities in their region in a race to transform a donated Chevrolet Blazer into a more eco-friendly car. In the last competition cycle, the team placed first in many of the areas they are scored on such as ride quality, communications, presentation and the most creative outreach event.
This competition is allowing students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) the opportunity to gain real-world experience dealing with design, thinking outside the box and learning to work with others to come up with the best EcoCAR they can dream up.
The project also allows for undergraduate students to participate heavily and help guide the future of the automotive industry. They are sponsored by several big companies with an interest in designing a vehicle that will lead the way to the future.
This year’s team hopes to reclaim these awards and is excited for the opportunity to improve and outperform previous teams.
WHO MAKES UP THE TEAM
The team is made up of undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty advisors. With a majority of undergraduate students, they attract the best and brightest STEM students across the University. There are around 100 team members at any given time.
The team is comprised of three main sub-teams: the propulsion systems integrations team, the propulsion controls and monitoring and the connecting autonomous team.
The propulsion systems integrations team focuses on the nuts and bolts of the project. It’s their job to choose the right parts for the car, and work on structural analysis.
The propulsion controls and monitoring team is responsible for ensuring that the parts on the car communicate well with each other and running diagnostics to help solve problems such as figuring out what speed a car needs to switch from running solely the battery to using the gas engine.
Finally, the connecting autonomous vehicles sub-team works on the computer-based parts of the car such as cruise control and other autonomous features.
HOW COVID HAS AFFECTED THE TEAM
COVID-19 created problems for every group on campus and the EcoCAR team was no exception.
They were slightly slowed down by the pandemic but continued to have biweekly meetings on Zoom in order to keep everyone involved safe. This along with social distancing and creating workgroups so that the lab does not exceed the capacity deemed safe by the University has allowed the team to continue work and ensure that they did not lose any ground on the competition.
WHAT THE FOCUS OF THIS YEAR IS
Their resilience will most definitely pay off because even though this is a four year competition the team is tested every year on a different aspect of the competition.
This year’s focus will be on driving events and presentations. They will be rated on specific parts such as fuel economy and the adaptive cruise system the team has designed for the car.
Even though it’s the third year of competition it is never a bad time to join EcoCAR.
The length of the competition along with the inherent need for innovation and fresh ideas has made recruiting new members absolutely crucial to the team’s success.
This constant search has created an environment where involvement is encouraged and new members are enthusiastically welcomed to the team. With several awards under their belt, such as first in ride quality, creative outreach event and the communication presentation, the team is working hard to maintain their status while improving on what they have already done.
Jordan Olson, a UA masters student in mechanical and electrical engineering and engineering manager, is a key component for the team’s success and has contributed heavily to the team’s recent innovations.
“This last semester we have really gotten things back up and running. COVID has been a roadblock but our team has been working harder than ever,” Olsen said.
Olsen, who worked for Tesla the summer before he officially joined the team, stresses that now more than ever it is important to go to Get On Board Day and get involved in extracurricular activities at The University of Alabama.
“Events like Get On Board Day are so important for teams like ours. Without interested people who are ready to learn and put hard work into the project we would not be even remotely close to where we are today,” he said.
He was disappointed that they were not able to participate in Get On Board day this spring due to COVID-19 but also talked about other ways to get involved with the team.
He stressed that any student regardless of major or age is welcome to join and can stop by the lab to see what EcoCAR is all about and meet some of the team members.
Working to build a car that will both meet consumer needs and be eco-friendly would be considered a very difficult task to most.
For the UA’s EcoCAR team it is just another challenge to hurdle over on their destined path to success. With a talented group of brilliant and capable students, it seems like the team has all the makings of a championship team.
Navigating the turmoil of COVID-19, it will be upon waiting eyes that The University of Alabama EcoCAR team culminates all their hard-fought efforts as they compete against other competitive teams all for the chance to be number one.