Challenge X, a design challenge put together by the Department of Energy and General Motors to engage students in the design and construction of fuel-efficient vehicles for a new age of automobile transportation, is now in its fourth and final year. The Mathworks, a platinum sponsor of the challenge, recently held the Challenge X kick-off event at its Natick, MA campus.
The challenge consists of 17 teams from across North America, each representing individual colleges and universities.
“The core goal of the competition is to create sustainable mobility,” says Cynthia Svestka, executive technical assistant, powertrain/vehicle integration at GM. “We had the opportunity in the creation of Challenge X to mirror the GM development process and thereby give the students the opportunity to take a project from that paper-based state to the actual hardware execution like we would do in industry,” she says.
During the first year of the competition, simulation played the largest role in the design of the team’s vehicles because they didn’t have a tangible vehicle to work with until GM provided each team with a Chevrolet Equinox. “The modeling and simulation has really been an absolutely instrumental part of the whole competition, starting from the selection of architecture,” says Ben Ciavola, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology senior and Challenge X modeling and controls team leader. “I think we ran something like 450 different architecture configurations in a design or experiment fashion to select what our team came up with.”
The MathWorks provides a suite of simulation software for the students to use in the challenge, including MatLab and Simulink. Argonne National Laboratory, which manages the event, also provides software, including PSAT (Powertrain System Analysis Toolkit), which works with Simulink. “Taking your Simulink code and being able to port it into the PSAT code is something that we did extensively to update our VTS (vehicle technical specifications),” says Mike Wahlstrom, Challenge X technical coordinator for Argonne and former Challenge X Waterloo team member.
Many students participating in the challenge this year have been involved from the beginning. “It’s been almost like an extra class that we’ve been taking all the way through,” says Chris Haliburton, Waterloo Senior and Challenge X team member. “So we’re mechanical, chemical, electrical engineers, but it’s like we’ve been taking a specialization in hybrid vehicles, so we all speak the same language from that perspective.”
Over the past two and a half years, GM alone has hired 50 former Challenge X students — an extra incentive to be involved in the program. “One of our objectives in doing this is to produce scientists and engineers who understand and are familiar with using advanced technology and the integration challenges of putting advanced technologies into a system, and helping develop and prepare these students to go out into the marketplace where they can help develop and design the next generation of vehicles,” says Edward Wall, program manager, office of freedom CAR and vehicle technologies for the Department of Energy.
By covering the complete vehicle design and development process, the competition aims to provide students with a solid foundation in new fields of engineering technology. “Seeing how the whole vehicle fits together is really one of the key aspects of truly becoming a hybrid engineer,” says Ciavola. “You can’t really focus on just one component anymore; you have to see the whole system and how everything interacts in order to get the full functionality and the full benefit.”