Last week we gave shout out for Kid Inventor Day. Today let’s give a shout out to all those student inventors back at school and back at work on real-world design challenges. I especially want to recognize the student engineers at this week’s EcoCAR 2 Winter Workshop in Austin, Texas.
They represent 15 universities and are there to learn and share. They’re also reaching out to local middle schools to inspire even younger student engineers. Stay tuned to the Green Garage blog and #EcoCAR2 tweets for the latest.
You may remember my interview with new engineer Jesse Alley, who now works for Argonne National Laboratory on EcoCAR2 after three years on the program as a student at Virginia Tech. After talking with Jesse, I wanted to find out a little more about Argonne and the advanced vehicle technology competitions (AVTC) it manages for The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Here’s more from an interview with Kristen De La Rosa, director of the program.
Tell me about AVTC, Argonne and your role there.
“DOE has been involved with Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions since 1989. Argonne has managed and administrated them during that time. I became director of the program in 1997. Before that I was with one of the sponsoring organizations. Our sponsors have grown both in number and what they give to the program. In the beginning a few sponsors provided $100,000 USD in financial support and in-kind donations. Today we have 27 sponsors and $1B worth of support. Our organizing body has grown from initially one technical and one program manager to a team of eight today.
Over the years the focus has shifted from alternative fuels like methanol, natural gas and propane to hybrids, plugins and fuel cells. When AVTC began, it was truly unique in aligning academia, industry and government. It is the public-private partnerships that make it so successful.”
Are you involved with other competitions – if so, how do the graduates with EcoCAR training compare?
“EcoCAR provides a multidisciplinary approach – covering schematics and systems-level engineering. It’s not just one discipline. So it replicates the real world of automotive engineering where engineers have to address fuel efficiency, consumer demand, utility, performance tradeoffs and environmental impact. It is what makes graduates so valuable to industry. It’s easy to do just one factor like build a vehicle that gets 100 miles to the gallon but not one people want buy. Our competition is advanced with a strong emphasis on model-based design so often we see students move on from other competitions to EcoCAR for the next level.”
Tell us about the role you hired Jesse Alley for.
“The role is vehicle systems engineer who oversees the design and commissioning process. In that role, Jesse addresses the mechanical subsystem, structural integrity, ensuring it’s a production ready vehicle. For his position, you have to know CAD and use Siemens software to make sure it all fits. It is also important to have an understanding of interfaces to energy storage systems.”
“Jesse brings to the table an enormous amount of experience, having worked on the program for four years as a student. Jesse provided the overall technical leadership of the EcoCAR team at VirginiaTech. He is a great addition to our team. His experience working with NX enabled him to get this job. We typically only hire from within the competition. It would be challenging to be an organizer of the competition unless you’ve experienced it firsthand.”
What would you say are the results of the AVTC/EcoCAR programs?
“When we first were working on hybrid technology, there weren’t any vehicles like that on market. So there were patents and technologies that came out of the early competitions that are in production today. Now the emphasis is electrification. It’s not so much about the next greatest technology but innovation in all the components, like the control system and unique packaging. We are producing the next generation of engineers that will revolutionize industry.”
What do you recommend to college students considering the projects and competitions to participate in?
“They should consider what the goals are of the program and what they can get out of their involvement. We are doing more to promote these programs at the k-12 level. Our teams go to middle schools and talk about value of math and science and give young adults a vision of what opportunities they have.”
What’s Up Next for EcoCAR 2?
To follow along as the teams progress in EcoCAR 2 this academic year, stay tuned to the Green Garage blog. This year marks the 25th anniversary so the AVTC team is reaching out to 16,000 alumni to find out where they are now. If you were one of them, contribute your story and join the AVTV Alumni program at http://www.ecocar2.org/avtc-alumni.