Pole Position: 3 Inspiring Student Motorsport Victories
Most engineers are kinaesthetic learners; we learn best by doing. It is fortuitous (although probably no coincidence) that engineering is such an inherently practical profession. Universities know this better than anyone, and project-based learning has emerged as one of the most popular and fastest-growing pedagogies.
For students who aspire to work within the automotive industry, there is no better learning experience than taking part in an international motorsport competition (think: Formula Student). These programmes require students to design, build and test a vehicle, before driving it through a series of rigorous trials.
When a student seeks employment, having been part of a successful student motorsport team can match (or even overshadow) the degree itself. After all, these competitions provide real-world engineering experiences, practical problem-solving, teamwork, project management… and highlight a genuine passion for automotive (for many students, involvement is extracurricular).
At NI, we feel honoured to have been invited to partner with many student motorsport teams around the globe. We are thrilled that the NI platform is not just helping students become competitive – it’s helping them become the VERY BEST! Allow me to introduce you to three recent, motorsport champions.
Competition #1: Formula Student Formula Student (FS) is Europe's most established educational engineering competition, requiring teams to produce a single-seat race car. Teams from over 100 Universities around the world compete, with each car being rigorously tested through a wide range of static and dynamic events.
Champion: Cardiff Racing, Cardiff University
Cardiff is home to a dedicated and well-respected FS team, who have traditionally ranked a little above the mid-table. 3 years ago, the team partnered with NI, and began using LabVIEW and the NI RIO platform in their car and on their test bench.
In the car, single-board RIO is used to control the electronic clutch and driver display units, whilst myRIO captures data from around the car, and wirelessly streams it to the engineers at trackside – allowing them to view live-performance data on the track.
On the test bench, CompactRIO acquires/analyses data from the engine and chassis components, enabling Cardiff to make informed design iterations to eek out the next performance boost.
This strategy worked! It has been an honour to watch Cardiff rocket up the FS rankings, from mid-table to pole position. Last year, Cardiff beat 100 other Universities, and became the first ever British team to be crowned FS champions.
The Shell Eco-marathon is one of the world’s leading energy efficiency programmes. Students are challenged to push the boundaries of what is technically possible, as they design, build and test cars that can travel as far as possible on a single litre of fuel.
Champion: DTU Roadrunners, DTU
The story of DTU Roadrunnners’ Ecomarathon success is as dramatic as any Hollywood movie plot. The team used LabVIEW and NI CompactRIO to build the car’s powerful ECU, closed-loop injection control and automatic gear shifting. The team were looking forward to a great performance at the Ecomarathon, held in Amsterdam. But, disaster struck…
...just two days before the event, a wiring short caused the car to catch fire in the paddock. The car was destroyed and the team were out of the competition. But, amazingly, the CompactRIO is so robust that it simply needed to be dusted off and rebooted, and the electronics came back online. This allowed the team to concentrate on rebuilding the chassis, which they did within 48 hours.
Not only were the DTU Roadrunners able to race – they won the Ecomarathon and set a new world record for fuel efficiency, a staggering 665km/l. For context, that car could theoretically travel the breadth of the United States, New York to San Francisco, on just 7 litres (1.5 Gallons) of fuel.
Moto E is a dynamic engineering competition, that challenges students to build and race electric motorbikes. The series enables teams to test themselves them against the best competitors in the world on iconic race tracks throughout Europe.
Champion: Nova Electric Racing, TU Delft
Motorcycle racing is a very fast and agile sport, where timing is everything. As such, Nova Electric Racing required a fast, efficient in-vehicle datalogger, which could validate their electric drives & battery management systems, whilst enabling the team to make data-driven improvements to their powertrain and chassis. This onboard data-logger could also authenticate driver strategies (eg. discerning the performance difference between applying the regenerative braking smoothly or doing so 200ms later and more abruptly).
The team decided to build their datalogger around NI myRIO, for its raw processing power, small footprint and reliability. Simple, fast communications with their battery management and motor control systems was facilitated by the Stratom X-CAN Adapter for myRIO, whilst race data, like acceleration, was collected by connecting sensors directly to the myRIO.
It is also useful to know the track location of the bike when a certain data point is collected – so they used the myRIO’s native UART lines to communicate with a SparkFun Venus GPS module. The myRIO combines all vehicular data with times stamps and GPS coordinates, before streaming it to a USB flash drive.
Armed with a new, detailed understanding of their bike, Nova Electric Racing obtained first place across three Moto E races weekends at Donninton Park, in the UK. This allowed the team narrowly beat race favorites, Bath Zero, to secure themselves the coveted European Electric cup title.
Clearly, partnering with NI on automotive projects can drive teams to triumph. More importantly, through the adoption of the NI platform, the students are gaining hands-on experience with technologies that are used throughout the automotive industry.
Here are a few examples of the big automotive players using the NI platform to drive their innovations:
And it’s not just commercial vehicles that benefit from a partnership with NI - professional motorsport teams can too!
A luxury, commercial Aston Martin car spends 90% of its time below 3,000 rpm at 20% throttle. In contrast, its race-ready counterpart spends 90% of its time between 5,500 and 7,500 rpm and 70% of the race at full throttle. During endurance races, like the 24 hour Le Mans, the engine needs to run on this punishing duty cycle for 5,000 km.
To maximise engine longevity and minimise visits to the pitlane, Aston Martin used NI CompactRIO to develop an advanced vibration analysis system, which allows their engineers to identify and tune-out resonances in the engine and chassis.