Engineering students from 17 universities across the country this month are cramming to finish the first phase of a special project that will give them credits toward graduation—and a chance to re-engineer an existing SUV.
They're under the gun to deliver the first computer models incorporating their ideas for redesigning the 2005 Chevrolet Equinox—cutting its energy consumption and decreasing emissions while maintaining the vehicle's performance and utility features. Their efforts are part of Challenge X, a competition sponsored by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
"The only constraint we're putting on them is safety," says Mark Johnson, GM's director for change management for North American products. "We want the basic structure of the car to remain the same."
Critical to the process, he says, is simulation and analysis. Students will be working with The MathWorks' MATLAB® and Simulink® technical computing software, as well as UGS' Unigraphics CAD package, the DOE's Powertrain Systems Analysis Tool Kit (PSAT), and testing software from National Instruments.
Last August, the students went through a four-day boot camp at The MathWork's facilities in Natick, MA to learn MATLAB and Simulink. GM and The MathWorks are providing mentors for the students as they develop their ideas and put them into models.
Each student team consists of up to 100 students, though only about 20 students from each team will be involved in the first modeling phase. In subsequent phases of the project, the students will build components and subcomponents and physically test them to verify their computer models.
GM and DOE sent notices of the competition to all university engineering programs in the U.S. and Canada. About 100 universities responded with proposals on how they would organize for the project, and the sponsors accepted 17 of the proposals.
The five-passenger Equinox has fuel-economy ratings of 21 miles per gallon in the city and 26 miles per gallon on highways. "We want to explore the envelope on how to improve those ratings," says GM's Johnson. "And in the process, the program will re-shape the structure of engineering training in the U.S."
Diagram This: Simulink from The MathWorks allows designers to intuitively model automotive systems using block diagrams.