TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Building on its success in the previous two competitions, The University of Alabama was selected as one of 15 North American institutions to participate in the upcoming EcoCAR EV Challenge.
UA students from across campus will be challenged to engineer a next-generation battery electric vehicle that deploys connected and autonomous vehicle features to implement energy efficient and customer-pleasing features while meeting the decarbonization goals of the automotive industry.
“The EcoCAR Advisory Board sees The University of Alabama as a great asset to the series due to our combination of outstanding students and the state-of-the-art transportation research resources on campus,” said Dr. Paul Puzinauskas, lead faculty adviser and UA associate professor of mechanical engineering. “This competition is the ultimate opportunity for students to combine what they learn in the classroom with mentorship from industry experts to solve real technical problems, and then promote the message that their solution is viable and accessible.”
The U.S. Department of Energy, General Motors and MathWorks sponsor the four-year EcoCAR EV Challenge set to begin in fall 2022. Managed by Argonne National Laboratory, the EcoCAR EV Challenge will be at the cutting edge of automotive engineering education, serving as a proving ground for future automotive engineers.
“This competition really separates Alabama from a lot of other schools, particularly in the state, because it’s an unmatched undergraduate and graduate design competition,” said Oakley Prell, UA EcoCAR project manager and senior from Hoover in mechanical engineering and the STEM Path to MBA program. “It’s a testament to all of the hard work that came before us to put The University of Alabama on this platform so students can make an impact on the automotive and transportation industry.”
There are close to 60 students on the current team and more than 300 have been involved over the course of the current four-year EcoCAR challenge. The team consists of a collaboration of engineering and computer science as well as students focusing on project management, business and communications. UA graduates in the program have gone on to land jobs with leading automotive manufacturers such as GM or used the experience to enhance their resume for jobs in other industries or graduate school.
More than $6 million will be provided to the selected universities, including five Minority Serving Institutions, for students to pursue advanced mobility research and experiential learning. This investment supports the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students and faculty to help build a talent pipeline for electric vehicles that reflects the diversity of North America.
Teams will be challenged to identify and address specific equity and electrification issues in mobility through the application of innovative hardware and software solutions, outreach to underserved communities and underrepresented youth to increase awareness about advanced mobility and recruit underrepresented minorities into technical fields.
“The team’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion was a strong part of the proposal,” Puzinauskas said. “However, our DEI effort will go beyond building diversity on the team, which is critically important in and of itself, but includes challenging the students to creatively find ways to break economic, racial and geographic barriers that could prevent equitable access to sustainable advanced transportation technology.”
General Motors will donate a 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ to each team, challenging them to design, build, refine, and demonstrate the potential of their advanced propulsion systems and CAV technologies over four competition years. Teams will be tasked with complex, real-world technical challenges including enhancing the propulsion system of their LYRIQ to optimize energy efficiency while maintaining consumer expectations for performance and driving experience.
A big plus for UA when applying for this competition is the research and development on connected vehicles and infrastructure happening in the Alabama Transportation Institute, Puzinauskas said.
“ATI has a strong record of advancing transportation system efficiency and access, and their commitment to support our EcoCAR effort certainly elevated the credibility of our proposal in the eyes of the EcoCAR organizers evaluating it,” he said.
The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.