A team of students from The University of Alabama racked up several awards in the nation’s premier automotive engineering competition.
The competition ended earlier this month after a grueling two weeks in Arizona that marked the culmination of the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge. Eleven North American universities competed in improving the energy efficiency of a 2019 Chevrolet Blazer and incorporating Connected and Automated Vehicle features while balancing emissions, safety and consumer acceptability factors. Sponsored by the United States Department of Energy, General Motors and MathWorks, the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge celebrated winners in more than 40 categories.
UA EcoCAR finished third overall while winning first place for its impact report, or how the team influenced its campus and community, and first place in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Engineering, an award sponsored by the DOE. Also, team member Bethany Welty won the General Motors Women in STEM Award.
“We are proud to be an elite team in the competition,” said Oakley Prell, UA EcoCAR project manager from Hoover who graduated in mechanical engineering and is continuing in the STEM Path to MBA program. “We have a great team across the board, and everyone performed really well.”
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 landed jobs with leading automotive manufacturers such as GM or used the experience to enhance their résumés for jobs in other industries or graduate school.
Over the course of the competition, which began in 2018, each team transformed its vehicle from design concept to reality. By applying advanced propulsion systems, electrification, SAE Level 2 automation, and vehicle connectivity, the teams built energy-efficient, connected and semi-automated vehicles.
The team also placed second for the MathWorks Model-Based Design Award and the dSPACE Leadership in Validation Award.
“The team really kept their poise while overcoming a myriad of unexpected challenges. I am very pleased with the results earned by our students,” said Dr. Paul Puzinauskas, lead faculty adviser and UA associate professor of mechanical engineering. “The experience they have gained managing through such challenges will be just as important as the advanced extracurricular skills they have developed as they progress through their careers. I am expecting great things from all of them.”
The final year challenged teams to test, prove and refine their work from the previous three years, mimicking a real-world automotive product development cycle. Teams applied advanced propulsion systems, electrification, SAE Level 2 automation, and vehicle connectivity to improve the Blazer’s energy efficiency. Each team was scored across multiple dynamic vehicle testing events ranging from energy consumption to acceleration and drive quality, as well as a 175-mile Over the Road Event through the Arizona desert, which tested each vehicle’s thermal management, range and overall durability.
Teams also gave five scored presentations to more than 65 judges from government and industry, detailing vehicle designs and subsystems, team management and communications activities, and demonstrating the multidisciplinary aspect of their EcoCAR team.
“It was an incredible experience, and getting to network with people from the sponsors, GM, national labs and so many others was instrumental in opening up career opportunities,” Prell said.
The strong finish, which includes winning the third year of the competition in 2021, builds momentum for the next round of the Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition, the EcoCAR EV Challenge, for which UA was selected.
Along with Puzinauskas, Dr. Hwan-Sik Yoon, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Mike Pope, instructor of marketing in the Culverhouse College of Business, co-advise the team. Lisa Jesme, a GM engineer, was assigned to mentor the team.
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.