A new laboratory and course at Kettering helps students and faculty design and experiment with the next generation of automotive electronic technology, particularly hybrid/electric and electric vehicles. Vector CANtech Inc., a worldwide leader in the manufacture of high-end tools for in-vehicle communications such as controller area networks(CAN), provided Kettering with software tools and materials for the development of the lab and supporting courses. Vector CANtech Inc. has a program called "CAN goes to College" that will provide top engineering schools with software tools and information for the promotion of controller area network education. Vector CANtech Inc. hopes to use Kettering's experience in using the lab and donated equipment as a model to other educational institutions throughout the world.
The goal is ambitious: to develop state-of-the-art communication systems for future vehicles, which would allow electronics components to "talk" to each other and thus create a driving experience unknown to today's drivers.
The work, however, is daunting. Kettering's Dr. Juan Pimentel of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept. created a laboratory for distributed embedded systems for automotive applications and integrated a new course into the computer engineering program titled Distributed Embedded Systems (CE-482) in supporting the development of projects using this new laboratory resource. The first CE 482 class to use the new lab will be in April.
For the past year, Pimentel has worked with Vector CANtech Inc. (www.vector-cantech.com), a worldwide provider of powerful software and high-end tools for controller area networks (CAN), to put this lab on its feet and provide the cutting edge technology tools necessary to teach students in the development of information technology for future automotive applications. Specifically, Pimentel established an agreement between the institutions in which Vector CANtech Inc. provides Kettering with software tools and materials for the development of the lab and supporting courses. Vector then hopes to employ Pimentel's laboratory and associated experiments as a model for other schools throughout the world as a means of promoting educational versions of in-vehicle communication products. Vector contributed approximately $100,000 toward the laboratory for CAN hardware and associated software tools.
Another partner company working with Kettering is dSPACE Inc. (www.dspaceinc.com), an organization that provides complete solutions for electronic control unit (ECU) software development and dedicated services in the fields of simulation, function prototyping, target implementation, and ECU testing. dSPACE provided equipment to the University worth approximately $30,000. The equipment includes a high performance DS1103 multiprocessor board, Control Desk, and TargetLink. With this equipment, the process of creating a model, simulating and prototyping it, and producing an actual system based on this model becomes virtually seamless. Other lab resources include Matlab/Simulink, Real Time Workshop (RTW), six micro controllers, six software development environments, and six debugging and software download modules.
CANoe software by Vector CANtech Inc. is a comprehensive resource that allows engineers and researchers to simulate the network environment of a car in terms of electronic communication systems.
"This software package allows users to move from a totally simulated system to an actual vehicle product," Pimentel explained. "This is very helpful to the automotive industry because it saves time in development. More importantly, information technology networking in the automobile is becoming increasingly important and the use of controller area networks is at the heart of this whole movement. This new laboratory will use CAN in many applications, which in turn will help others better use the technology. Based on Kettering's reputation and prestige in the automotive industry, Vector CANtech is interested in the experience of the University lab's use of the CANoe software. This is why Vector CANtech looks to Kettering to serve as a kind of role model in terms of the lab's use of the CANoe software. Institutions throughout the world will want to see how successful students and researchers at this school are regarding the use of this tool," he added.
For Pimentel, the true measure of success for the lab is not gauged in financial contributions, but rather in how well students learn the software and utilize the lab for thesis projects and other research endeavors. "Students are now using the CANoe software and producing some interesting projects," he said. "Vector CANtech Inc. looks forward to hearing the results from student projects, which I feel will please the company."
Currently, two student groups in CE 490: Senior Capstone Design are working on developing electronic sensing motor controls to provide increased power to a three-wheeled, bike-like vehicle called a Trikke. Brian Jesionowski, a senior from Cleveland, Ohio, and a member of one student group, explained that the motors would kick in to maintain current speed of the Trikke when ascending a hill. His group will connect one micro controller at the rear wheels of the Trikke to collect sensor information, which is then sent via the CAN communication bus to the other micro controller, which controls speed.
Additionally, Pimentel said that Ty Clark, an engineer at Vector CANtech Inc., is currently completing his thesis project by exploring ways of using the CANoe software package in university environments.
Pimentel is thrilled that students have immersed themselves in the use of the Vector CANtech Inc. and dSPACE Inc. tools, but recognizes that his participation could help further pave the way for even more opportunities with other companies. "I realize that given the right tools, our students are outstanding in using these resources in creative and innovative ways to solve a variety of engineering problems," Pimentel explained. "This motivates me to partner with interested companies that could provide appropriate tools to Kettering because they empower students to deliver significant accomplishments."
Pimentel also said that he expects this lab to be "very successful, in terms of what it will offer Kettering students and researchers, and also by what it provides our partner companies. But most important, the automotive industry will benefit from the new discoveries and potential for important research, which may change the way we drive in the near future."
The future of the lab is also very promising. The equipment can also handle other communication technologies, such as LIN (a network involving automotive sensors and actuators) and MOST (a network for in-vehicle audio and video communications). In the short term, Pimentel expects the lab to handle FlexRay, currently under development by the FlexRay Consortium (www.flexray.com). FlexRay is the next generation of in-vehicle communications for safety-critical applications like those involving chassis systems (e.g., drive-by-wire). Other future uses of the lab include model-based simulation and rapid prototyping of automotive functions. During the fall 2002, Kettering students used the dSPACE Inc. equipment to develop control algorithms for induction motor drives based on high frequency, three-phase power inverters suitable for electric and hybrid/electric vehicles.
To learn more about Kettering's Laboratory for Distributed Embedded Systems, visit the laboratory website. Companies that wish to partner with Kettering in this endeavor may contact Dr. Juan Pimentel or Dr. Mark Wicks, interim department head of Kettering's Electrical and Computer Engineering, at (810)762-7900.
Written by Gary Erwin