Members of the Ohio State EcoCAR team pose with the Chevrolet Blazer during the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge Fall Workshop. Credit: Courtesy of the United States Department of Energy

A team of Ohio State students hopes to continue their winning streak as they redesign a Chevy Blazer as part of the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge.

Ohio State’s EcoCAR team has won the past five years of advanced vehicle technology competitions according to Jake Berg, co-communications manager for the team and a fourth-year in strategic communications, but this competition will introduce a new challenge – connected and automated technologies.

“Connected and automated vehicles is definitely something we haven’t done before,” said Simon Trask, engineering manager for the team and a graduate student studying mechanical and electrical engineering. “We’ve spent a lot of time on hyper propulsion and we’ve really learned a lot about it and kept a lot of knowledge at Ohio State for it.”

Trask said Ohio State professors have provided plenty of support for the group, especially out of the Center for Automotive Research, emphasizing the help is welcome given how new connected and automated technologies are.

This would include features such as adaptive cruise control and being able to communicate with traffic lights and surrounding vehicles, Trask said. The team also will use hybrid technologies to make the car more fuel efficient.

The EcoCar Mobility Challenge is the 12th AVTC sponsored by the Department of Energy and managed by Argonne National Labs. It is a four-year competition and each year teams will be judged on a different phase of the design cycle — design, implementation, calibration and refinement.

“The way the judging works is that every year is essentially a new competition,” Trask said. “You keep the same vehicle and you work on it throughout all four years, but the points reset at the beginning of each year and so that’s to mark each segment of the design cycle.”

However, this year, the inclusion of connected and automated technologies will change the design phase slightly.

“We’re doing connected and automated technologies alongside propulsion technologies, which they kind of have different timelines so it changes the score a little bit,” Trask said. “They want us to finish the propulsion technologies before the connected and automated technologies which is fair, it’s nice to have a driving vehicle before you try adaptive cruise control.”

Trask said Ohio State won all four years of EcoCAR 3, the 11th AVTC, where they redesigned a Chevy Camaro as well as the final year of EcoCAR 2 with a Chevy Malibu.

“Each competition will have its own vehicle and its own goals so last competition was how to build a performance hybrid vehicle, so a Camaro fit the bill perfectly,” Trask said. “And the Chevy Blazer is a new vehicle where the crossover SUV market is really growing.”

Trask noted that many people are wanting to head in an SUV direction because they sit higher, are more comfortable, more spacious and safer. Because of the car’s popularity, the group decided to target it for the project.

Trask said the goal for this vehicle will be what’s referred to as level two automation in which the car will do the braking and acceleration for the driver.

“But the driver still has to pay full attention to the road,” Berg said.

Because it will be a student-driven vehicle, Trask said the team will include plenty of safety features.

“We don’t want to have any mistakes,” Trask said. “But the goal is to create a vehicle that’s capable of driving in its lane in a straight line without needing the driver to do more than hold the steering wheel and monitor for any unexpected things.”

At the end of the four years, the car should be dealer lot-ready, Trask said.

“It has to be a real vehicle at the end we can’t just strip out the inside, put a stool there for you to sit on and say, ‘well now it’s lightweight,’” Trask said. “While Trask said the team has a strategy for how it approaches these kinds of competitions, it won’t be an easy task.

“This is something that we haven’t done before it’s ATVC, it’s a DOE challenge but it’s not EcoCAR 3 and it’s not EcoCAR 2. So, we’re hitting the ground with pretty much the same blank slate every other team is,” Trask said.

Besides being an opportunity for Ohio State students to get experience working with automotive vehicles, Berg also said the competition also gives them the chance to teach kids about the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics through outreach events at schools.

“I was there with the Camaro and this kid came up and his eyes just lit up when he saw the Camaro and just telling him everything about what we’ve done and just seeing that look in his face and knowing that I made a difference was a phenomenal feeling,” Berg said.