Wilberforce, Ohio State students to collaborate on developing electric vehicle systems

WILBERFORCE — A joint team of students from Wilberforce University and the Ohio State University will compete in an challenge to develop electric vehicles over the next four years.

Wilberforce and Ohio State are among 15 North American universities that will compete in the next EcoCar EV challenge, set to begin in this fall. The four-year international competition will challenge students to engineer a next-generation battery electric and autonomous vehicle.

The EcoCAR EV Challenge will place students at the “cutting edge” of automotive engineering education, said Wilberforce advisor and Computer Science Professor Deok Nam.

“This is a great opportunity for us to work with OSU,” Nam said. “This will be a great opportunity to have hands-on experience on actual mobility for the automotive technologies. (Students) will apply their major into the actual product.”

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, General Motors and MathWorks, General Motors will be donating a 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ to each team, and over the course of four years, students will be challenged to design, build, refine and demonstrate their advanced propulsion systems and CAV tech. The final product must be both energy-efficient and pleasing to the average consumer, while meeting the decarbonization needs of the automotive industry.

Students’ work follows General Motors’ vehicle development process. The first year consists of design and digital simulation. The second year involves basic integration, ensuring the car can move on its own power. In year three, students input additional functionality, and year four is all refinement, culminating in the EcoCar EV series finale at GM’s proving grounds in Arizona.

Ohio State has been participating in the challenge for years, and last week, a cohort of students traveling to Arizona to show off their vehicle in a battery series of assessments on performance, fuel economy, drive quality, and autonomous functions, all done by experts from General Motors.

“It’s a rush,” said Ohio State advisor and Associate Professor of Engineering Shawn Midlam-Mohler. “It’s a fun, yet stressful environment.”

With the next competition coming up in the fall, Ohio State sought to expand its offerings, partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to both open opportunities to a wider variety of students, and allow students from small schools to compete on the national level. A lot of HBCUs don’t have the size to compete, Midlam-Mohler said. The Ohio State program generally draws up to 40 students. So far, three Wilberforce students have already signed up as a summer internship, with hopes to add more students in the fall.

“This project is very attractive to those who are interested in automotive technology,” Nam said. “This project will be a factor to recruit more students at Wilberforce, and at Ohio State University as well.”

The relationship between the two schools is symbiotic, Nam added, as Wilberforce can offer unique quality education through Ohio State professors, and some students have already expressed interest in continuing the project, and their education, through Ohio State.

“It puts Wilberforce in the limelight for what our students can do. This is going to shine a light on the students and let the world see the potential we have in Wilberforce,” said Dwobeng Owosu-Nyamekye, Wilberforce’s Dean of Professional Studies.

At its core, the EcoCar EV challenge is less about technological development, and more about training, allowing students to operate in an environment similar to how they would work in the automotive industry.

“Autonomy and electrification. That’s it for automotive hot topics,” Midlam-Mohler said. “From a job prospect perspective, it’s actually such a rich experience. Not just, ‘I had a class,’ but ‘I developed software that goes in an autonomous vehicle that competes.’ That’s got ‘Hire me,’ written all over it.”

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