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Virginia Tech wins hybrid vehicle competition

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VIRGINIA Tech triumphed over students from top engineering universities last week for their designs for environmentally friendly crossover sports utility vehicles (SUVs) at the second annual Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility competition.

James B. Kolhoff, engineering director of GM Powertrain software, says that National Instruments Aust & NZ ’s software and hardware platforms for graphical system design give the competing Challenge X teams high-level tools, allowing them to quickly design, prototype and deploy innovative control strategies for new hybrid and fuel cell vehicles.

In the research phase of development, the National Instruments platform is being used to improve fuel efficiency and performance at a lower cost for future GM vehicles.

Challenge X is a three-year engineering competition to develop methods for reducing total energy consumption and emissions in a crossover vehicle while maintaining or exceeding vehicle utility and performance. Virginia Tech used the National Instruments LabVIEW graphical development environment, LabVIEW Simulation Interface Toolkit, LabVIEW Real-Time and FPGA modules with CompactRIO (reconfigurable I/O) hardware for comprehensive engine control of their vehicle.

Virginia Tech placed highest overall based on performance in categories such as control strategy and validation, fuel economy, emissions testing, braking and handling, acceleration and towing capabilities.

The architecture of the vehicle was a split parallel hybrid that used two electric motors and ran on E85, an ethanol gas blend that reduced the vehicle's well-to-wheels petroleum use by 74%.

Additionally, the team used an innovative LabVIEW monitoring application displayed on a flip-up LCD monitor as a "fault management system" to relay critical system information to the driver from the CompactRIO embedded control system.

Steve Bushey, Virginia Tech controls team member, says that LabVIEW running in real time on a FPGA was the key for the strategy in the Challenge X competition. With graphical programming, the team quickly developed a prototype and was able to easily deploy the vehicle controller on small, FPGA-based CompactRIO hardware.

Because of the flexibility of National Instruments’ software and hardware for embedded prototyping, they were able to implement an innovative, fuel-efficient control strategy for the hybrid vehicle.

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