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Phil Campbell alum takes part in UA team named year three Champion in EcoCAR Mobility Challenge

The University of Alabama team of 65 students – spanning a variety of majors from engineering to communications and business – took home first place for year three of the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge, and a Phil Campbell alumnus, Ben Williams, was part of the team.

The four-year EcoCAR Mobility Challenge is an automotive engineering competition that tasks student teams at 11 universities with, as explained by UA, “improving a 2019 Chevrolet Blazer’s fuel efficiency by incorporating a hybrid-electric powertrain and optimizing its operation using connected and automated vehicle features.”

During the third year of competition, teams switched their focus from design and integration to development and performance.

“This year’s team demonstrated strong dedication to support each other and incredible focus under very unusual circumstances,” said Dr. Paul Puzinauskas, associate professor of mechanical engineering and the team’s lead adviser.

Williams said he got involved with EcoCAR in the fall as a freshman because he wanted to get involved with something that would allow him to be more active in his major, electrical engineering.

“I believed I could get a lot of hands-on experience and also find out if my major was actually a fit for me,” said Williams. “I joined the CAV – Connected and Automated Vehicle – sub team.”

Specifically, Williams explained, he was on the sensor fusion and V2X teams within CAV.

“With the sensors team, I worked on developing a tracking algorithm so the vehicle could detect other cars and obstacles while driving,” he said. “With the V2X team, I worked on a project that would allow our car to receive information about the position, speed and direction of another vehicle. Our car would also send its own information back to the other vehicle.”

In addition to the first-place finish, the UA team also won first in project management, Best Impact Report, Best Year-End Project Status Presentation, Best Propulsion Controls and Modeling Presentation and Best Year Three Vehicle Technical Inspections.

“We were the only team to receive full points for both the fall and spring vehicle technical inspection,” said Madeline Gilmer, the team’s project manager.

Additional honors were Outstanding Team and Sponsor Collaboration, first place dSPACE Leadership in Validation Award and second place MathWorks Model-Based Design Award.

“I had a great time working on these projects and learned about as much from EcoCAR as I did from any of my classes,” Williams said. “When I found out that we had won the competition, I was super excited, especially for some of the older team leads that had been working on EcoCAR for years now to reach this point.”

The pandemic presented several challenges for the team including, limited access to labs. Gilmer said some students worked from home during the summer, which set the team up for success once they were able to be together; however, preparation did not go off without a hitch. The team experienced a setback but was able to overcome.

“Early in the fall, we over-sped the engine during dynamometer testing that resulted in the need to replace our engine and components on our electric motor assembly. Our Propulsion System Integration team was able to do this quickly and effectively, which allowed us to perform well in the fall vehicle technical inspection,” Gilmer said.

Because of the uncertainty of the pandemic, she said many of the competition’s written, verbal and vehicle deliverables were changed, and the deadlines were rescheduled, making it a true challenge to complete tasks in a timely manner.

“We combated this by creating stretch goals for each task to ensure we were meeting competition requirements, while also finding areas to strive for more,” Gilmer said.

In 2018 the UA team finished third in the final year of the four-year EcoCAR 3 program, which consisted of 16 teams working on a Chevrolet Camaro. The UA team held the third-place spot in the first year of the Mobility Challenge. While a few awards were given virtually this past year, teams were not given an overall rank in Year Two because of the pandemic.

Williams said his favorite thing about being part of this program was “getting to work with hardware and software that was entirely new to me.”

“I’m hoping we can continue the success next year, as I’ll definitely still work as part of the team,” he added.

The competition is supported by several sponsors, including General Motors, MathWorks, the U.S. Department of Energy, the UA College of Engineering and the Culverhouse College of Business.

UA’s EcoCAR team welcomes students from any major determined to develop professionally and willing to dedicate themselves to the program. Anyone interested in joining the team can contact Puzinauskas at ppuzinauskas@eng.ua.edu or Oakley Prell at joprell@crimson.ua.edu.

The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus.

A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.

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