MathWorks in Natick helps students with quest to build eco-cars
Daily News Staff Photo / Allan Jung
University of Tennessee student Jake Hollingsworth, left, discusses Stableflow with MathWorks Director of Consulting Services Paul Smith during core platform training. MathWorks hosts students from 15 major US and Canadian universities who are in the process of using new battery and drive train.
About 150 college students involved in a quest to build a more environmentally friendly car visited The MathWorks this week as they learned how software programs can help them test their car designs.
"We give them a lot of training and education," said Paul Smith, director of consulting services at the Natick-based company. "This is the third year (of the three-year contest) so the focus this year is refining what they have already done."
The students, who comprise teams from 15 schools throughout North America, are participating in the EcoCAR 2 competition, which challenges them to reduce the environmental impact of a Chevrolet Malibu without affecting safety and performance and keeping the car consumer-friendly.
Students are primarily changing elements such as the engine and transmission, but some are exploring ways to make the car more aerodynamic and other ideas.
"It’s really challenging to say the least. There are so many facets to the competition," said Chris Golecki, a graduate student at Penn State whose team is working on a plug-in hybrid electric car that uses ethanol. "The experience is one of a kind."
In addition to boosting students' engineering skills through hands-on activities, Golecki said they learn how to interact with and motivate different people.
Trevor Crain of the University of Washington said while it is a competition, students from different schools talk with and learn from each other in a collaborative environment.
While some students tackle engineering functions, other teammates handle marketing and business management duties, said Kimberly DeClark, of Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Ill.
EcoCAR 2, sponsored by government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy and businesses such as General Motors, is part of a series of advanced vehicle technology competitions that have been held in the past 25 years.
Daniel Mehr, who grew up in Massachusetts, participated in a prior competition as a student and now works at General Motors, said students test their cars at a General Motors facility using the same tests GM uses on its cars.
But, before they test actual cars, they run simulations and models using computer programs developed by MathWorks.
The software, Smith said, allows students and industry professionals to test ideas without modifying a car.
"It’s a safe place to experiment and test things without breaking anything," he said.
Mehr said ideas this group of students develop could someday be used in cars, but car companies need to make sure they are cost-effective and can withstand 100,000 miles of driving.