Year Three: Optimizing Attitudes

Year Three is officially underway for the 137 Bulldawgs that attended the 2013 Fall Kick-Off meeting for the Mississippi State EcoCAR 2 Team. Students from 15 different majors expressed their interest in joining the team in their goal to refine and optimize the 2013 Chevy Malibu, donated by General Motors in Year Two. The rapid growth in student involvement this semester is promising to the team, who is already busy preparing for the final competition of EcoCAR 2: Plugging In To the Future.

This summer was relatively calm after placing fifth in the Year Two competition that took place in May. However, things are swiftly gearing up again for the team. Tours, organization fairs, new student events, meetings, school visits, and of course, refining the EcoCAR 2 are all on the to-do list for the immediate months. Fortunate for MSU, there are now over 100 students to aid in this process.

Members of the team will be traveling to Natick, MA for the EcoCAR 2 Fall Workshop on September 25th, hosted by the MathWorks. The students will receive one-on-one training from sponsors and professionals on how to use the different types of software that will be required by the competition. The business and communication students will also receive special help on how to accomplish the tasks set before them by the competition organizers.

The final year of the EcoCAR 2 competition may prove to be the most tedious and difficult year yet. However, with the support of the Mississippi State students and the Starkville community, they are ready to wear maroon proudly and represent the best cowbell-ringing school in the world, through doing what they do best: getting down to business.

To keep up with MSU’s EcoCAR 2 team throughout the Year Three refinement process, follow them on Twitter: @MSStateEcoCAR2 or “like” them on Facebook: Mississippi State EcoCAR 2 Team. 

Team Excels in Final Competition Regardless of Setbacks

The MSU EcoCAR 2 Team recently returned from Year 2 Final Competition where they were fortunate to be awarded with some of the highest honors that the program has to offer. After one week of testing their vehicle at General Motor’s Desert Proving Grounds in Yuma, AZ and one week of presenting different aspects of the process of building the hybrid, the team walked away with the 5th place trophy. Claire Faccini, the Communications Manager, spoke on the subject.

“Coming in to the competition as the Year One champions put a lot of pressure on the team, in a good way. We started out in second place but because of a major mechanical problem, we were only able to get fifth. However, we considered it a huge success,” Claire said.

The unexpected error occurred in the custom hybrid powertrain on the third to last day, was fixed on the second day, and the car was running events on the last day. This in itself was an incredible feat to pull off because of the team’s dedication. The team completely dropped the powertrain and reassembled it (basically rebuilt the entire front of the car) within 20 hours.

“It was amazing to see and other teams even told us that we ‘inspired’ them to overcome challenges that they faced. To our team, that is where we won. There was no time to feel sorry for ourselves or be disappointed. We knew what we had to do and got it done.”

The Mississippi State University Provost, Dr. Jerry Gilbert, and the Vice President of Research, Dr. David Shaw, were able to attend a “Ride & Drive” in San Diego. They were able to take the vehicle for a spin and get to know the team and see first hand that regardless of the set-backs, these bulldawgs were determined to succeed.

Despite the challenges presented to the team in the Arizona desert, they persevered and focused on perfecting their presentations for the second leg of the trip. The MSU team took home many top honors including:


            Best Vehicle Design Review Presentation

            Best Controls Presentation

            Best Communications Presentation

            3rd Place Overall Business Program

            3rd Place MathWorks Modeling Award

            1st Place dSPACE Video Award


“Garnering the fifth place position seemed nearly impossible when we dropped our powertrain in Yuma. However, we really showed our Bulldawg spirit in San Diego and we are proud of how far we were able to come.”

Where Are They Now: Challenge X and EcoCAR Alum Michael Barr

Michael Barr, a Mississippi State Challenge X and EcoCAR alum, is now a Systems Engineer at AVL Powertrain Engineering. He got involved in 2007 during Year 3 of Challenge X and continued through 2011 with Year 3 of EcoCAR. Michael was involved with MSU’s mechanical group and served as Mechanical/Powertrain Group Leader during his time with the team.

While on the team, he developed his passions and that is when he realized what he wanted to do with his life career-wise.

“After I got involved with Challenge X I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Michael said. He now serves different roles within his profession such as functional integration of mechanical, electrical, thermodynamic, and energy storage systems within hybrid and electrical vehicle applications. Michael primarily works on the design, build, and testing of HV batteries, but is also doing controls work on vehicle applications.


Michael’s experiences with AVTCs are the reason that he has a successful career that he has a passion for. The competitions sparked his interest and evolved into something that he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing.

“I love cars, and I wanted to work in the automotive industry.  I knew the AVTC program could get me this and that’s why I got involved.  I loved the entire experience (except maybe a few of the overnighters) and what I do now at AVL is very similar to everything that I did in Challenge X and EcoCAR.  I love what I do and wouldn’t change anything.”

Michael learned a lot from the experiences that the AVTCs brought him but one piece of advice that still sticks with him to this day is to have a good work ethic.

“If you work hard and have dedication you can do anything. Get involved, work hard, do your best, and WIN!”

Invaluable Members Complete the Challenging Process of Electric Work

The Mississippi State University EcoCAR 2 electrical team has been working relentlessly wiring the car. While there are a few kinks that need to be worked out, the electrical systems are letting this car “Cruze” around. It has been a long and challenging process, but with some valuable insight from the team’s controls team leader, Jon Moore, this car has taken shape. This three man team of Blake Brown, Lee Sargent and Hagan Walker has completed the electrical work necessary for this car to compete and it would be a surprise to any onlooker that none of these invaluable team members had previously wired an automotive electrical system.

This team decided to use the engine out of a Chevrolet Cruze, the transmission out of a GMC Terrain, and a custom chain drive system. All of these important mechanical parts are then controlled by a dSPACE MicroAutoBox and RapidPro. The integration of the mechanical and software halves of this car is done largely by the electrical team’s wiring and electronics. This meant that the team needed to create custom wiring harnesses and new circuits to make these devices interface properly. A great example of this is the engine bay’s new 12 volt bus bar that the team sees as an improvement to the previous design because it allows for an engineer to replace any of the fuses as necessary without replacing the whole bus bar. Additionally, this allowed the team to provide power to more devices in the engine bay while maintaining some of the factory engine styling.

With all of the electronics that would make Pimp My Ride jealous, this Electrical Engineering team got its first foray into mechanical engineering building ridged structures to support this hybrid’s controls and charging systems. These mounts needed to support the Rapid Pro, MicroAutoBox, APM, Charger and necessary support electronics. These carbon-fiber structures also needed to provide sufficient cable management for the dozens of wires running to these systems. This team has created a structurally sound container that is ergonomically hidden in the trunk of the Malibu.

ESS: From a Freshman Perspective

Being a freshman on a college campus already has its setbacks. However, being a freshman on the Mississippi State University EcoCar 2 team has no limitations, especially for Stephen Hayden. After only being part of the team for three months, MSU’s EcoCAR 2 leaders trusted freshman Stephen in leading the preparation of the molds for the Energy Storage System (ESS) containing high voltage components. The team also allowed him to play a crucial role in the creation of the actual ESS carbon fiber enclosure. Since he is a freshman, and new to the EcoCar 2 challenge, composite work was a brand new field for him.  The only experience he had in the past with composite work was working with fiberglass.

“Though carbon fiber is similar to fiberglass, it is a completely different beast.  Therefore, creating the ESS out of carbon fiber was a very long and tedious process, but an amazing learning experience,” Stephen said.

The top section of the ESS consisted of three layers of material. The first two layers placed on the ESS were fiberglass, in order to make the entire ESS dielectric.  Then, a layer of carbon fiber was applied to the mold.

The bottom section of the ESS contained two layers of fiberglass. But, as opposed to one layer of carbon fiber, several were applied to the bottom section of the ESS to provide extra rigidity and strength. An area that required special attention was the center section of the ESS; an “X” of unidirectional carbon fiber weave was added to increase the torsion strength in the center.

Creating the ESS out of carbon fiber allowed the team to create a rigid, yet incredibly light, high voltage enclosure. The two sections of the ESS, the top and the bottom, weigh only a total of twenty-five pounds. Laying up carbon fiber for the ESS was a completely new experience for Stephen. Despite this, he thoroughly enjoyed learning how to work with this material.

“I feel fortunate to be a part of such a wonderful team that allows freshmen to participate in creating such key components for the vehicle. I am blessed to be able to call Mississippi State University home and be part of such a wonderful EcoCar 2 team at the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems.”

MSU EcoCAR Team Races to Atlanta

Last semester, outreach coordinators organized a trip to Petite Le Mans in Atlanta to represent the MSU EcoCAR 2 Team. Their experience was something they will not be forgetting in the near future.

With the start of the new fall semester comes the start of a new cycle in the MSU EcoCAR2 team’s race to win the national title.  2012 is no different. And with the new cycle comes new opportunities to reach out to the general public and share with them what they’re doing in Starkville.

In October, three members of the team (Rachel Wheeler, Blake Brown and John Stewart) along with staff advisor Matthew Doude and Faculty Advisor Dr. Molen Marshall took the EPA up on their invitation to attend the Petite Le Mans race just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. For three days, the team was present, along with the EcoCAR1 hybrid vehicle, to showcase their work, knowledge and perceptions of the future.  In addition, they were able to witness what is, arguably, the most technologically advanced use of alternative fuel-powered cars in the world. Every car entered in the race is required to use some sort of alternative fuel (e.g. isobutynol, ethanol, etc.) and some even harnessed the power of electricity for an added boost.

“It was a car person’s dream to attend this event. We were very excited to join the EPA in showcasing ‘green’ technology and what we’ve accomplished here at Mississippi State [University]. I think, for me at least, it was the highlight of the event to be granted access to the pit area where we were able to talk with the pit crews and engineers about what it is they’re doing with the cars.  The level of planning, technology and the overall teamwork that goes into these multi-million dollar cars is not only staggering to a car aficionado but it’s overwhelming to an aspiring engineer. I mean, these guys sit around in what down time they have and think up new ways to find a competitive edge. A great example is the centrifugal flywheel!” – John Stewart, Powertrain Team Leader

The centrifugal flywheel is an electric “booster” that stores up energy that the driver can use later for about an additional nine seconds worth of power. The idea has been around for a while and is currently used in locomotives on a much larger scale. However, it is just now making its way into the race and daily-driver market.

The team was well-received during the race weekend. Their expo was set up in Vendor Village alongside the EPA’s tent. People from all over the country go to Atlanta to witness one of the greatest races in this country. And some of the spectators knew who the MSU EcoCAR2 team was.

“We never had a bad question. Even when people were unfamiliar with what we do or the competition in general, once we started explaining to them what we’re doing and why, overall interest peaked. Everyone wanted to know ‘Is this what my hybrid is?’ or ‘Can I expect this level of performance in a hybrid if I buy one?’ Then there were the people that knew who we are and what we’re doing.  It was their first time up close and in person with our technology.  And they just ate it up. Even the skeptics were impressed with our 350 combined HP and 700 foot-pounds of torque! When we started explaining our platform for the EcoCAR2 Malibu, instantly, they were able to relate to what is now mainstream technology in cars such as the Chevy Volt .It made us feel good to see people respond so well to what we do.”  — Rachel Wheeler

There’s talk about joining the EPA again for next year’s race. But that’s not the only event the team attends. You can see them at events from the east coast to the west coast, from Detroit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Be sure to check the team’s website for more information and future dates near you.

Spring Break: EcoCAR 2 Version

The MSU EcoCAR 2 Team has spent countless hours at the CAVS facility while other students are enjoying sunshine and beaches on their spring break. However, that does not mean that the team cannot seek out a little SB’13 action of their own.

During the time spent working on the vehicle and preparing for regional inspections that will take place at CAVS on Wednesday, March 20th, the guys made the facility into their own mini-vacation. They set up a grill and tables outside to create an atmosphere of rest and relaxation that most MSU students find on the white shores of Destin. Beginning with burgers and ending with homemade cookies, these spring breakers caught a glimpse of typical college undertakings.

Although most college students would resent being cooped up on their beloved spring break time, the team managed to complete numerous tasks and are happy with their productivity.  They are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel while the rest of the breakers are busy shielding the light from their eyes on their cruise, beach, or any other typical spring break locality.

The time off from class actually was a relief, relief that they would have more time to devote to EcoCAR 2 before inspections.


Alumni Spotlight: Stephen Wren

Stephen Wren, now a Nuclear Mechanical Engineer, was once an integral part of Mississippi State University’s Mechanical/Powertrain group on the EcoCAR 1 team. Stephen began his career in the Navy before attending Mississippi State as a Nuclear Machinist’s Mate in New York. He spent four years learning about and operating pressurized water reactors. After his time in the Navy, he decided to pursue his Mechanical Engineering degree at MSU.  When he first enrolled, he knew that he wanted to be involved with the EcoCAR team and it was part of his motivation in choosing to move to Starkville, MS.

“I knew early on in my college career that I wanted to be involved in design of environmentally-conscious thermal/energy systems,” he said.  After graduation and an extensive job search, Stephen decided to move to Virginia. “A few months after moving, I found a role at my current company, a utility/energy consulting company in Australia with an office in East Tennessee. By a stroke of luck…the offer and position were right in line with what I was hoping to find for a long-term career, and I accepted it and moved…again.”

When reflecting on how Stephen got to where he is today, he thinks of working with the MSU team and how the skills he developed with EcoCAR are invaluable. Stephen began by simply attending the weekly meetings and helping where he could, then, as he advanced in his curriculum, he began taking on more technical and challenging roles. During his time with the team, he was involved with designing and building the full scale driving simulator used in the EcoCAR Year 1 competition expo and machined the aluminum motor mounts used on the final vehicle shipped to Detroit and Washington D.C. Along with these tasks came the real-world, hands-on experience that is so vital to the EcoCAR competition.

“I learned a number of skills that I have used in my positions since graduation that I never would have encountered in the classroom,” Stephen said. “Time management was one of the most valuable things I learned on the EcoCAR team.”

The MSU EcoCAR 2 team is proud to have Stephen as an alum and look forward to seeing the great things he will continue to accomplish in the future.


EcoCAR 2 Survey

[colorvote id=”1″ style=”wpcvp-poll”]

MSU Team Returns from Austin, TX

The MSU EcoCAR 2 team recently made a safe return from Austin, TX! EcoCAR 2: Plugging into the Future held their annual Winter Workshop at the Freescale facilities and it was co-sponsored by dSPACE, Inc. During the trip, the team was able to review competition rules, present deliverables for competition points, and experience further training. Team members Jonathan Moore and George Hilliard gave a Software-in-the-Loop (SIL) presentation and Business Manager, Brooks Davis presented the judges with a Sponsorship Pitch. These were the first presentations in Year 2 with an opportunity for competition points.

EcoCAR Organizers made sure to provide welcoming events such as Welcome Night at Abel’s on the Lake and the Sponsor Social in the Courtyard Marriott. Thursday, January 24th, the Communications Managers were able to visit different middle schools in the area for outreach day and the MSU EcoCAR was on exhibit! The last night of the workshop consisted of an evening at local legend, Maggie Mae’s on the infamous 6th street downtown.  These events were extremely helpful in allowing fellowship for competing teams to get to know each other and network with the organizers as well. Also, all of the teams were given the opportunity to visit and tour the Circuit of the Americas F-1 race track and venue on the last day.

The 2013 Winter Workshop was very successful and MSU is grateful for all EcoCAR Organizers and sponsors and all of their hard work. The team not only learned invaluable knowledge from the sessions but gained a great lifetime experience and potential life-long acquaintances.

« Previous PageNext Page »