ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
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ECE students win award for hybrid car driver display

Alexander Keller receiving award

HEVT software team leader Alexander Keller accepts the Freescale Innovation Award.

June 5, 2013 — ECE students on Virginia Tech's Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT) received the third place Freescale Innovation Award for creativity in user interface design at this year's EcoCAR 2 competition.

Alexander Keller (BSEE '13) led HEVT's software team in developing a user friendly touchscreen display that helps drivers learn practices for conserving energy and maximizing fuel efficiency. The "eco-screen" uses Hokie-themed visuals to show information such as system mode, battery charge, and energy efficiency.

The touchscreen is also used to adjust the vehicle's radio and AC unit with intuitive controls. "We used icons so the user can get to the buttons very quickly so they don't have to take attention away from driving," says Fangfang Oremland (BSEE '13).

Software team members worked up until the last minute to prepare for the competition and their efforts paid off — HEVT was the only team with a user interface that successfully communicated with its vehicle.

"We were able to meet all design criteria for this year's competition," says Xingjian Ma (BSCPE '14). "We put forth our best effort and we are proud of the final result."

Members of the HEVT software team with their vehicle display

The HEVT software team, from left: Emylee Esteban (BFAVCD '15), Alexander Keller (BSEE '13), Fangfang Oremland (BSEE '13), Xingjian Ma (BSCPE '14), and Sultan Alobaishi (BSEEE '14, BSCPE '14).

EcoCAR 2: Plugging in to the Future is a three-year competition that challenges student teams to re-engineer a stock Chevrolet Malibu into a hybrid car. Goals include reducing the vehicle's fuel consumption and emissions without compromising performance, utility, or safety.

HEVT traveled to Yuma, Ariz. and San Diego, Calif. this May to compete in the second year of the EcoCAR 2 competition. The team placed sixth overall and received first place in the static consumer acceptability category, an evaluation of consumer features and vehicle interior and exterior design.

Next year's contest will task teams with refining and optimizing their vehicle designs for the final round of the EcoCAR 2 competition. Xingjian Ma will assume leadership of HEVT's software team, whose first order of business will be debugging.

"We found a few small glitches in our design after the competition," Ma says. "Correcting these defects will be the first priority since we are trying to achieve perfection on our user experience."

The software team will then implement additional functionality for the display. Flash memory storage will allow drivers to save their current audio and climate control settings for their next driving session. Bluetooth configuration will enable communication between the vehicle's microcontroller and display and users' mobile devices.

"Once the Bluetooth is up and running, we will be able to bring in tons of cool features such as displaying vehicle status on your cell phone, streaming music and videos, sharing screens, and even sending text messages through the display," explains Ma. "Imagine that you will be able to change the AC temperature on your Android device even if you are lying on the back seat!"