The Michigan Hybrid Racing Team (MHybrid) unveiled this year’s new formula racecar, and ECE students are hard at work to make the car a success at the Formula Hybrid Competition at Dartmouth on April 27. The car will be tested on its speed, design, and efficiency. The team will take a number of design improvements over previous models to the track, and the electrical group has been busy making them happen.
The Formula Hybrid Competition challenges teams from colleges and universities around the world to collaboratively design and build a formula-style electric or plug-in hybrid racecar. This marks MHybrid’s fourth year of entry. Each year the team designs and constructs a completely new vehicle to take to Loudon, New Hampshire.
This year, the interdisciplinary team of students have been hard at work building on their past entries to create a winning car. New features include a brand new engine, a smaller form factor for a lighter-than-ever car, the team’s first aerodynamics package with a front and rear wing, and a built-from-scratch high-voltage system and battery case package.
“In past years we’ve had a battery case sponsored to us by GM,” explains Gwynn Cunningham, EE Junior and one of MHybrid’s electrical division leads. “This year we’ve completely built our own.”
MHybrid was the first team in the Formula Hybrid competition to implement four-wheel drive using two independent electric motors, and the team is further refining this feature on the new car. This allows for more advanced control algorithms, which can result in better handling.
And every advantage counts in the competition’s four different races, or dynamic events: Electric Accel and Hybrid Accel, both 75 meter drag races; Autocross, a timed obstacle course; and Endurance, a 44km race with a gas volume restriction. MHybrid’s 2014 car placed 1st in dynamic events.
In addition to race placement, competitors are judged on the team’s documentation, design, presentation, and the vehicle’s efficiency.
MHybrid offers its members a chance to further their education and test out their own ideas.
“This is a really unique opportunity to have responsibility over a system,” says Ben Wang, CE Senior and MHybrid team captain. “You have to push the boundaries and come up with new ideas, and help teach your younger teammates."
“I learn so much more in Hybrid than I do in my classes,” added Gwynn. “It’s a lot more hands-on, you learn how to apply things, figure out what’s going wrong, and fix it yourself.”
Teamwork and the chance to build relationships with engineering peers are other motivating factors for members.
"I’ve made the best friends I’ve ever had on this team," says Vicky Cheung, EE Junior and sub-team lead for the car's high-voltage accumulator. "You’re not confined to your own subject, you can meet people in other departments."
“It’s a great experience working with a ton of brilliant engineers and seeing the team develop over the years,” adds Jake Moline, EE Junior and another electrical division lead.
In fact, several members came to join through personal contacts. Jake was recruited his freshman year by a hometown friend working as captain at the time, and he, in turn, recruited Gwynn as a sophomore.
With just a month to go, the team still has a lot of testing, calibration, and testing again left ahead of them. Team members say it's not uncommon to log 60 hour weeks leading up to the competition - some have already done so before the unveiling!
But once the car is up and running, it all pays off.
"When the car comes together, you can point to your own system and say 'I designed that; I built it; I tested it,'" says Jake. "It's a great feeling."
Race day always brings many challenges and surprises, but 2013 was especially memorable for veteran team members Ben and Jake. Ben tells the story of a near disaster, worked out on the spot with engineering ingenuity and a bit of good luck:
"It was the last day of the 2013 race. We hadn't competed yet - we were still trying to pass the really rigorous electrical inspections. When we went through one of the tests, our car actually drove backwards on electric because it was calibrated wrong. So one of our guys on controls ran next to the car while we pushed it to get fueled up. He ran a cable to the car and uploaded the last bit of code while it was on its way to a race. And it actually worked - it was the greatest feeling ever having the car run for the first time on the track."