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Shell Eco-marathon: Driving the Future of Mobility

Active Participant RER
Active Participant

Shell Eco-marathon: Driving the Future of Mobility

Start Your Engines!
The destination? A greener future for us all.


The Shell Eco-marathon is an automotive competition that focuses on something significantly more important than speed! This unique event challenges young engineers to design, build and drive the most energy-efficient car. With three annual events in Asia, Americas and Europe, 500 teams from 50 countries take to the track to see who goes farthest on a single litre of fuel.


Ecomarathon (lowres).JPG


The competition dates back to 1939, when Shell employees in the USA made a friendly wager over who could travel farthest on the same amount of fuel. Since then, the contest has expanded to two more continents, includes many energy types, and sparks passionate debate around the future of energy and mobility.


We sent our NI engineers, Morten Baltzer Kristensen and James Kinch, to London, to scope out this year’s European Eco-Marathon and to meet two of the NI sponsored teams.

Perspectives from Track-side

 “Energy is a key ingredient in our world. It powers our homes and factories. We use it to produce food, water, medication and clothes.  But, as populations grow, so does our need for more energy. This challenges us to not only produce more and cleaner energy, but to also make better use of what we have.

During our time at the Eco-marathon, we saw brilliant young minds pushing the boundaries of energy efficiency. These students are participating in making a change and helping to ensure the sustainability of our planet"

Morten Baltzer Kristensen, Applications Engineer, NI Sweden


“As we stepped through the bright, yellow gateway, we felt the hair on the back of our necks stand on end - the excitement and anticipation at the event was palpable. Everyone from primary school kids to veteran engineers felt like they were part of something genuinely special; striving for a brighter and more sustainable future.


Being an engineer myself, it's awesome to work for a company like NI, who genuinely cares about the future and supporting the students that build it”

James Kinch, Applications Engineer, NI UK


Meeting NI Sponsored Team #1

  • Institution: University of Hertfordshire
  • Competition Category: Prototype - Futuristic cars built for maximum efficiency
  • Energy Type: Internal Combustion Engine

Hertfordshire team.JPG


This is the very first time the University of Hertfordshire have entered the Eco-marathon. The team began the year with nothing – yet, fuelled by tenacity and ambition, they designed and built a functioning prototype-class car within a matter of months. And their ambition paid off – not only did the car pass all inspections and technical testing, but they became the 4th best performing British team with an impressive fuel efficiency of 181 km/l. A remarkable achievement for a brand-new team.


Q. How Would You Rate Your Performance Today?

"We were really happy with the results and that we got a valid run in, especially as our driver really didn't have much experience with the car and had only ever done a few laps of the real track!

Looking back it was a great event, although very stressful and tiring; the car had a lot of issues which brought excitement and stress into the competition as we had to think quickly and act fast"

Kristopher Dolton, Team Manager, The University of Hertfordshire


Q. How Was Sponsorship from NI Useful?

"Having only 6 months to build the car, being able to use the NI Combustion Analysis System to tune the engine has been very valuable. NI is the main player in this area and we really didn't want to go second best - if it needs to be proper, it needs to be NI.

The support engineers have been very proactive in getting in touch and so I have no doubt that whenever we need help, they'll always come through to support us."

Alexis Ihracska, Project Supervisor, The University of Hertfordshire


Q. What’s Next for the University of Hertfordshire?

"It's been nothing but challenges from the start, but after having come down here and passed the safety inspection on the first day, there is now a big excitement in our university department.

As part of my PhD, my intention is to build a custom engine for the next event using ceramics. This will require me to work more closely with the NI combustion analysis equipment to fine tune the engine.  We already have everything we need for the car’s shell & chassis, so, keeping to the Prototype Class, we'd like to concentrate on engine development and reducing rolling resistance wherever we can."

Kristopher Dolton, Team Manager, The University of Hertfordshire


Meeting NI Sponsored Team #2

  • Team: The DTU Roadrunners

  • Institution: Technical University of Denmark

  • Competition Category: Urban Concept - practical, road-worthy designs

  • Energy Type: Internal Combustion Engine

DTU Roadrunners on the track.jpg


The DTU Roadrunners are perhaps the best performing team in the competition, having won the European urban-class competition eight times in the past decade. The team also set a fuel-efficiency world record in 2015. At 665 km/l, their car could drive right across Europe, from London to Rome, on less than two litres of fuel!




This year, the team had ambitions to break their own record, but damage to the car’s engine and sensors upon arrival impacted their performance. Although they fell short of their record, they still achieved a staggering 449.2 km/litre, coming second place in the face of adversity.


Q. How Would You Rate Your Performance Today?

“Unfortunately the car suffered damage in transit, leaving us to identify and fix various issues with a very little time. However, unlike most of our competitors, we built our engine control unit from scratch using CompactRIO – this arms us immense knowledge of the inner workings of the vehicle, and gives us visibility into what is happening with the engine.

Having made many quick fixes, we wanted to play it safe this year, yet still finished the second run with 433.8 km/l. I’m really proud of the team’s performance under immense pressure.” Rasmus Frausing, Academic Supervisor, DTU Roadrunners


taking the trophy.jpg

Image: The DTU Roadrunners Taking to Stage to Collect Their Silver Trophy


Q. Was Sponsorship from NI Useful?

 “NI technology has been a real asset to the team. LabVIEW is a perfect way to program, not only being intuitive to new users, but it allows us to easily see the flow of the data to gain immediate insight into the car. CompactRIO was a great choice of controller, offering modularity and processing power. CompactRIO is also incredibly robust, having survived a serious car fire a couple of years ago!” Andreas Ulrich Møbius, DTU Roadrunners


Video: Car Idling Using the LabVIEW Based Test Interface


“The sponsorship also came with regular technical support meetings with NI engineers, which became our safety net. If anything went wrong, the students knew where to get help. I also think it is incredible that NI willingly sent two engineers to support us during the Ecomarathon. James and Morten helped us make tweaks and fixes to the car controller, to ensure we were ready for the next attempts.” Claus Suldrup Nielsen, Academic Supervisor, DTU Roadrunners


tech help.jpg

Image: Using LabVIEW to Investigate Engine Issues


Q. What’s Next for the DTU Roadrunners?

“We discovered that our car is heavier than many of our competitors, so we will look for opportunities to reduce weight. Also, we need to make certain components more robust. Although our engineers flourished under pressure, we would rather start the event with a functioning car next year! With the changes in place, we will be ready to set a new world record in the future.” Benjamin Hartz, DTU Roadrunners


Road running.JPG


Tracking the Champions

LabVIEW is not only being used by the student teams – it’s now integral to the Eco-marathon itself.


Until recently, vehicle energy consumption was measured manually – requiring event staff to take fuel level readings before and after each race. However, thanks to NI Alliance Partner, Schmid Elektronik, these measurements are now handled autonomously, by means of mobile transponders installed within each car.


The in-vehicle transponders link the car’s operating data with GPS coordinates before transmitted it through an IoT platform into the cloud via cellular network. LabVIEW is used to wirelessly scan each sensor service via TCP/IP, before processing the received data to discern fuel status and GPS positions for up to 30 vehicles simultaneously.


As you can see below, LabVIEW processes the results in real-time, and displays fuel consumption to the excited audience on a web-based leader board, along with a live race map.


Champ Tracker.PNG


Additionally, the race data is evaluated with NI DIAdem before being handed over to the teams after the event. This data can help the teams refine their technology and strategy for future races.


Read more about this incredible application in the white paper (.PDF) attached at the bottom of the blog post.

Final Thoughts

The Shell Eco-marathon matters. It encourages young people to consider careers in engineering, it promotes fuel-efficiency and green engineering, it arms competitors with real world engineering, problem solving and project management skills.


Crucially, the event also generates a unique spirit, which instils competitors with shared values and compassion. This is highlighted by this story from the DTU Roadrunners...


Giving other teams a helping hand.JPG


“When other teams are in need, we gladly help. A Italian team had some issues with their LabVIEW real-time engine code. Luckily, our engine control system is completely written in LabVIEW, and we had already created a code module that solved the Italian team’s issues. We simply had to drag and drop our nugget of code into theirs, and they were back up and running. Problem solved!”  Rasmus Frausing, DTU Roadrunners


Of course, every Eco-marathon team is in-it to win-it. However, competitiveness seems to be over ridden by a sense of community, collaboration and shared success. Which is exactly what will be required to create a sustainable future for us all.


Rich Roberts
Senior Marketing Engineer, National Instruments
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