Category: Non Technical Post

Year Three Workshop: Refining Skills

The MSU EcoCAR 2 team arrived in Natick, MA Wednesday, September 25th for the Year Three Fall Workshop. Nine team members learned about the rules and expectations of the competition as well as received hands-on training.

Students participated in technical instruction sessions as well as hands-on hardware training from competition sponsor, Freescale Semiconductor. Team members learned the basics of controls for the vehicle and project management, as well as more advanced tasks from other competition sponsors such as Siemens, dSPACE, AVL, and General Motors.

The different training sessions offered a variety of information to all of the teams and the MSU business manager, Chris Hoop, found the varying perspectives to be very helpful.

“As a new team member, I was able to really immerse myself in the program at the workshop. The project management training by one of our sponsors, EarthPM, gave me the tools to effectively navigate through Year Three,” he said.

The members were also invited to attend a sponsor social in the The Verve-Crowne Plaza where they were able to meet competition sponsors to discuss potential employment or to ask for advice on the competition. In the past, these socials have always been an integral part of the competition and are extremely helpful in providing students a gateway into the automotive industry.

The team would like to especially thank MathWorks for hosting all 15 teams at their Natick campus and for providing them this excellent opportunity for learning and growing as a team.


Photo credits: EcoCAR 2 Flickr

Backing a Future We Want

Mississippi State’s EcoCAR 2 Team was recognized Thursday, October 4 at the Governor’s Energy Summit in Jackson, MS. They won an award for excellence in Alternative Vehicle Design and were able to meet keynote speaker, Rudy Giuliani, Former Mayor of New York.


The summit was held in the Jackson Convention Center and featured energy sector leaders from around the country.  The team was recognized in front of energy officials, state and local government representatives, the business community, the academic community, public policy experts, economic development professionals and of course, Rudy Giuliani.

The main topic of the day-long event was how growing the energy sector is vital to Mississippi’s economy and educating the public on the importance of energy development. The Fraser Institute, an independent non-partisan research organization, named Mississippi the number one spot for oil and gas investment. The Governor acknowledged this and wanted to provide a forum through the summit for discussions of new ideas to expand upon the opportunities Mississippi has to offer.

Karen Harbert, President and Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for 21st Century Energy, was part of a discussion panel at the event.

 “If we’re going to put the country back on our feet, we are going to need to rely on energy”, she said. “We have an excess of energy resources and that needs to be reflected in our policies.”

The consensus of the speakers at the event, including Giuliani, was that energy policies should be a main concern for the United States. Energy experts know that our country can be self-sufficient and believe it should be. If our country approaches the topic through common sense and awareness, successful policies can be implemented.

MSU’s team was also invited to bring the 2013 Chevy Malibu that was donated by General Motors for the competition. However, throughout the year the car will be employed and unable to be at certain events. The yearlong process requires constant work on the car and since the team could not bring it, they asked for help.


Weathering D.C. in the Name of Sustainability

The MSU EcoCAR 2 team had the privilege of spending 2 weeks in Washington D.C. this past summer, but the trip was not just an ordinary summer vacation type trip. On the contrary, the trip was filled with different forms of excitement throughout. We were actually there to help our good friends at the Smithsonian Institute celebrate the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

This celebration entailed spending two weeks on the National Mall under a spacious tent dedicated solely to the MSU EcoCAR team. The venue gave our university and our team valuable exposure in the nation’s capital. It was an opportunity for students, faculty and staff representing the university to interact with people from around the country and all over the world.

Held annually since 1967, the festival this year celebrated the 150th anniversary of the 1862 enactment of Morrill Act that created land-grant institutions such as MSU. This year’s theme, “Campus and Community,” also commemorated the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Within the “Campus and Community” theme, our team served as part of their sub-theme called “Sustainable Solutions” alongside such projects as the University of Tennessee’s Living Light solar house that competed in the Department of Energy’s past Solar Decathlon competition.

A total of 18 institutions of higher learning participated this year, each with exhibits to demonstrate their respective contributions to the modern land-grant system. We were honored to be counted among those 18 and were especially privileged to be a part of Mississippi State’s presence on the Mall which had one of, if not the largest presence on the Mall during the festival. In addition to the EcoCAR exhibit, our University brought representatives from our Vet school as well as the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Designed to be interactive, each MSU exhibit engaged the public with hands-on activities.


Our specific tent was designed to have many different focus areas where visitors could learn about the AVTC program, our team’s technology and history in the program, and the need for these emerging technologies. Within our tent we housed our EcoCAR, a driving simulator, a video board, as well as an area dedicated to Outreach activities for all ages.

The official count for those who attended came out to be over 545,ooo which is a number that probably would’ve been higher had it not been for the ‘land hurricane’ that swept over the city of D.C. during our stay. The windstorm resulted in a down cell tower, power outages that affected thousands (including an area where some of us resided), and also resulted in lots of damage to the festival exhibits, including ours. Our tent fell down, on the EcoCAR, and our displays also received some damage, but thanks to the wonderful work of the Smithsonian staff and volunteers, the festival was back up and running only 2 days following the storm. We thought our tumble with Mother Nature was over at that point, but during the following week, there was a string of thunderstorms that went through Starkville. Unfortunately, one of those ended up affecting a team member’s home, catching it on fire, while they were at the festival. Luckily, the damage to the exhibit was only cosmetic, and the team member’s house situation is now being sorted out. The most important thing was that no one was hurt throughout all of the chaos and ‘excitement’.

We thought our tumble with mother nature was over at that point, but unfortunately during the following week, there was a pretty bad string of storms back in Starkville. One of those ended up affecting a team member’s home, catching it on fire, while they were at the festival with us. Luckily, the damage to our exhibit was only cosmetic, and the team member’s house situation is now beginning the process of putting everything to together. The number one thing is that no one was hurt throughout all of the chaos and ‘excitement’.


Other excitement stemmed from the visitors that we encountered one of which was Dr. Mark Keenum, Mississippi State University’s President. We were also paid a visit by representatives from the Department of Energy as well as quite a few engineers from Siemens who were in the area for a conference. Beyond any of the specific individuals who visited our tent, it was truly astounding to be able to reach out to such a diverse audience that the Festival drew in. One moment we would be discussing different options for alternative energy sources with a family from California, and the next moment we would be talking to an individual from Poland about potential solutions for charge time in lithium-ion batteries. It was a great experience for all of us to take part in conversations with people ranging in their opinions, their levels of understanding, and in what topics they personally took an interest in.

The days spent in D.C. were filled with extreme heat & humidity (and sometimes extreme weather), freshly squeezed lemonade, and thousands of valuable discussions with visitors about everything from the competition and our vehicle’s technology, to our University and how our team’s presence has impacted our state. The Festival truly provided a platform for our team to stand on and convey meaningful messages to people we wouldn’t normally get a chance to do so with, and for that, we thank the Smithsonian Institute.

Summing Up the Simulation Phase

After a year’s worth of hard work and dedication, the MSU EcoCAR team sent 12 students and Faculty Advisor, Dr. Marshall Molen, to represent all of the work that was done since August. Our team really began working on EcoCAR 2, before EcoCAR 1 was even over. The time we spent on our proposal was an integral part of setting us up for success throughout Years One, Two, and Three of the competition. Year Two is described by the EcoCAR 2 competition as the building and integration year of the 3 year process. We just finished up the ‘Design and Simulation’ portion that Year One encompassed and, after visiting Los Angeles for the Year One competition, we faired pretty well with the initial design portion. However, it wasn’t an easy process getting to that point.

For an entire year, a group of 81 very dedicated students came together and worked tirelessly on everything from literature reviews to component scenarios. We studied every square inch of the various architecture designs we had to choose from before resting on a Parallel-Series Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle. From there, we had the responsibility of choosing which stock components should stay and which would be replaced; Furthermore, with what would these components be replaced and where in the vehicle would we place them?

The process for Year One is certainly a complex one, but balancing all of these questions and more is crucial in determining the success of our design. After deciding on not only  architecture and components, we set out to run tests and simulations to determine how efficient and powerful our Malibu will probably be. You see, without even having the actual Malibu in our garage, we can come to a very robust understanding of how our Malibu will perform and under what parameters will it perform best. Beyond even these tasks lie more questions to be answered regarding vehicle weight, road clearance, and even the level of risk involved for each step of implementation. Every decision in this process links to another risk factor or cost-benefit analysis. For instance, choosing one engine over another may return more power, but it could very well be counteracted with the added weight it brings, or it may take up just enough space to squeeze out another crucial component. Every step we take has been with the utmost care and understanding that these are the steps that will lock us in for the next two years of competition. The decisions we’ve made this year carry a high burden of responsibility in the determination of our success in Years Two and Three of EcoCAR 2.

Coming into the competition the MSU team was 4th place overall, out of 15 universities across North America. With this in mind, we got straight to work on making our presentation delivery the highest priority for everyone. As Business Leader, Lee Pratt put it, “There really wasn’t any time to rest. Once one person finished a presentation, they started helped everyone else with theirs. It was great teamwork.” And that truly is how our first few days in L.A. went. We would practice our presentations in front of the team and Dr. Molen, and after receiving feedback, we would rework and restructure our delivery until it was time to practice once again. This is a method the MSU team has held in place for quite a while and we plan to continue with that process.

Presentation and delivery is a key part of the EcoCAR program. They understand how imperative it is for engineers and business people to not only perform well, but also have the ability of conveying that performance under time constraints. Even though the work we accomplished in Year 1 was necessary to our completion of EcoCAR 2, presenting all of that work in 25-30 minute windows of time was necessary in our success in EcoCAR 2. After a week in Los Angeles, the team ended up representing Mississippi State University very well bringing home 16 total trophies, including first place overall! If you’d like to learn more about the team or the competition, please refer to this press release or visit the EcoCAR 2 competition and their Flickr site for all the photos from LA. Go Bulldogs!

The Year One Home Stretch

In this year’s EcoCAR2 competition, roughly half of the 1,000 total points are based on material submitted before the actual competition week.  There are progress updates, design reviews, and other milestones throughout the course of the year.  Some are worth 3 points, and some are worth 100 points.  To maintain a high total score, our team has to approach each one with the same level of effort; a great total score is made up of a bunch of great individual scores.

As the weeks pass by, though, and deliverables are marked off, our team’s Year 1 “to-do” list grows shorter and shorter.  Design reviews, facilities inspections, outreach reports, and almost 400 pages of engineering design:  done.  There is only one remaining technical report due this year: a 20-page summary of all our engineering and project management efforts.  We also have due our final outreach report, which will summarize all of the outreach, PR, education, and media activities of our outreach team.  We are excited to also be producing a video highlighting one of our team’s sponsors:  Snap-on Tools.

These remaining activities will all take place, along with final exams, over the next month or so.  Of course, that still leaves the OTHER half of the competition points, which ride on a week-long frenzy of technical and outreach presentations:  EcoCAR2 Year 1 Competition in Los Angeles, CA!  The team will give eleven presentations in four days, to some of the highest executives and brightest stars of the automotive industry.  These judges will then determine how effectively the team engineered their redesigned hybrid vehicle, as well as how effectively we presented those hundreds of pages of engineering and dozens of outreach events within a few 25-minutes presentations.

As our team gathered this week to discuss what we needed to accomplish and how to compose the best presentations, we talked about how, at that very same moment or in similar gatherings around the country this week, fourteen other teams were having the exact same discussion.  In EcoCAR2, everyone puts their best foot forward; no matter what, you are guaranteed to take the “best shot” of fourteen of the other top engineering schools in the U.S. and Canada.  Our team is up to the challenge.  Bring on LA.

Left Brain vs. Right Brain

Left vs Right Brain

Most people somehow feel that they are inherently more (or less) artistic than they are analytical and then claim to be either left-brain thinkers or right-brain thinkers. For EcoCAR 2, as well as in most life activities, you need to use both.

Maybe both sides need to be used at once by one person, or maybe it is just necessary for different sets of people to specialize in using one side or the other. In any case, you need the collaboration of either both sides of the brain or both sets of people who think on one side or the other. EcoCAR 2 not only teaches this concept, it fully integrates it – and the positive resulting effects are too enumerable to be counted.

Our entire year 3 experience is one that challenges us not only to design a vehicle that looks nice, but functions well. It has been said many times before that to be successful at what you’re doing, you must be willing to get your hands dirty. Few things in life allow us to just get by with the minimum, and EcoCAR is no different. We cannot merely come up with great designs, but also be able to follow up and fully implement those designs to create a beautifully engineered hybrid in the end.

If you think you have what it takes to get in the garage, use your WHOLE brain, and get your hands dirty, you may want to e-mail the MSU team at to join in the action.

Team Mentor Visits MSU!

Last week we  had a great time visiting with our GM mentor, Sarah Vano. We gave Sarah no time to rest after her flight south, as we began her visit with a quick dinner at the Center for Advanced Vehicular (CAVS) followed by a two-hour brainstorming session to discuss ideas related to improving vehicle efficiency. We covered mechanical and controls concepts, and Sarah provided some great insight that helped to focus our work for the rest of the semester. After a long day’s work on Thursday, team members showed Sarah Starkville’s historic Cotton District, and left her with a gift that officially welcomes her into the Bulldog family.


Working Together to Bridge the Gap

The gap between technical and non-technical ways of thinking is usually fairly substantial. The subject-matter and thought processes are so drastically different from one another that sometimes it doesn’t seem necessary to even try to bridge that gap.

The EcoCAR 2 program gives students and professionals (technical and non-technical) the ability to think in terms of both. This gives EcoCAR students the skills and mindset that many industries and organizations are  looking for. Organizational leaders  seek  individuals with the ability to proactively collaborate to fix  problems. EcoCAR 2 is the epitome of cross-discipline collaboration. Students; faculty; and professional sponsors come from different sides of industry and yet all work seamlessly together to achieve a sole purpose – creating vehicles that are more sustainable and consumer oriented for a society that is faced with an impending energy crisis. This concept of training students to think and work collaboratively is not only part of the solution to the automotive or energy markets, but it could also be part of the answer for larger scale societal issues.

Society and the world we live in is long overdue for an across the board “meeting of the minds” – something that the AVTC program has been putting into action for 23 years now.