Mississippi State University EcoCAR Team reflects on year one; talks plans for the coming year

November 29, 2023

MSU President Mark E. Keenum and Provost David Shaw, center right, along with Vice President for Research and Economic Development Julie Jorden, left of car, are pictured with MSU’s student EcoCAR Electric Vehicle Challenge team members, along with faculty advisors who will help guide the team during the prominent four-year competition to implement an all-electric powertrain and other cutting-edge features in a new Cadillac LYRIQ. The program develops students to become leaders in the automotive and related engineering fields. (Photo by Grace Cockrell)

MSU EcoCAR’s new acquisition, the Cadillac LYRIQ, is a smooth and quiet ride. With its hands-free Super Cruise and comprehensive, innovative system that includes rear park assist and automatic emergency braking, even someone who knows nothing about cars can recognize the thoughtfulness put into the 2023 design. The vehicle is so quiet that only the motor's soft music indicates it’s actually on. But over the coming weeks, it will become a different sort of quiet as it’s stripped down, its computer and other tech removed, making it nothing more than an immovable husk. Over the next three years, as part of the EcoCAR EV Challenge, the Mississippi State team will add their chosen motors and controllers and develop and the control and autonomy code, while attempting to keep the smooth nature of the original LYRIQ. 

The EcoCAR EV Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, General Motors, the MathWorks, and 20 other industry sponsors, is a collegiate engineering competition. The team’s lead advisor and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, John Ball, explained that it challenges student teams to design, build and optimize cutting-edge electric vehicles, providing real-world experience in advanced vehicle technologies, project management, and teamwork. The competition follows a four-year cycle, each year focusing on different vehicle design and optimization aspects. Team advisor John Ball explained that students are taught industry practices during the four-year cycle, making the competition incredibly unique.  

CAVS MSU introduces the newest "member" of the EcoCar Mobility Challenge team. (photo by Grace Cockrell / © Mississippi State University)

“There isn’t another competition like this where students get this kind of interaction and training by industry leaders,” Ball said. “As a result, students come out of the competition with practical, real-world experience, and most companies treat their time in EcoCAR like work experience.” 

In 2022, the competition began a new cycle, with the MSU team being seventh overall in year one. Project manager and MSU graduate student Timothy Wunrow said they were happy with the 7th place finish since many key team members had graduated the year before. Still, they are looking forward to beginning year two as the point totals resets each year, and the MSU team has a chance of placing higher.  

“Last year was a huge rebuilding year for us, and we had to figure out where new members worked best, not just where on the project, but with their fellow team members, as well,” Wunrow said. “Last year, we came together as a team, and now we can begin to work on what our team has always excelled at – the actual creation of the vehicle’s software.”

While the team finished in the middle of the pack during year one, they won first place in project management, first place in the EV Architecture Selection Report, first place in the Final Project Status Presentation, and first place in the Mid-Year Project Status Presentation. Wunrow continued by saying that year two is where, historically, the Mississippi State team begins to shine. This past month, MSU’s Cadillac LYRIQ was delivered to the team. After an unveiling at MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, where MSU President Mark Keenum and Provost and Executive Vice President David Shaw took the car for test drives, the team has spent time establishing a baseline for the vehicle. Ball said once they complete the baseline, they will begin the fun part of gutting the car’s operating system, removing the motor and controller, and turning off the systems that make the LYRIQ unique.  

CAVS MSU introduces the newest "member" of the EcoCar Mobility Challenge team. (photo by Grace Cockrell / © Mississippi State University)

Two of the team’s biggest challenges will be turning the LYRIQ from a rear-wheel drive into an all-wheel drive and adding a LiDAR, allowing the vehicle to scan the environment in front of the vehicle and giving the driver a 3D map of every shape around the car. Wunrow explained that while not required for the competition, adding the LiDAR will make the car safer as it drives with adaptive cruise control and gives the MSU team an additional opportunity to collaborate, similar to the collaborations of a real-world company. 

Wunrow and Ball have high hopes for this team during the competition and beyond. Not many engineering competitions give students a look at what it’s like behind the scenes to create a product from start to finish, and the EcoCAR competition offers more than that. Participants attend workshops and talks with industry partners and make connections that benefit them beyond EcoCAR and Mississippi State, ones that help them launch their careers as future industry leaders. Past MSU EcoCAR team members now have jobs at GM, NXP Semiconductor, Tesla and JB Hunt, to name a few. 

“We have excellent professors at Mississippi State, and the real-world hands-on experience that is EcoCAR complements what our students learn perfectly,” Ball said. “These students have an edge over so many other students, and it’s all thanks to the EcoCAR competition and to the excellent education they get at MSU.” 

The Bagley College of Engineering is online at www.bagley.msstate.edu and can be found on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and YouTube at @msuengineering.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.

By Camille Carskadon