What is your name, major, and role?
My name is Dan Harvey, I am a second-year master’s student in Mechanical Engineering, and I am the Project Manager for the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT); I joined the team in the fall of 2017. As Project Manager, I organize the entire team. I coordinate communication between the undergraduate students and our industry sponsors, as well as address all scheduling needs. I am also the oversight of our sub-teams, so I allocate any resources or materials that they may need and I assist the sub-team leaders when needed.
What is Hybrid Electric Vehicle?
We are an advanced engineering design team that has been a part of Virginia Tech for about 25 years and is comprised of about 70-80 undergraduate and graduate students. Our team competes in Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions, which are sponsored by General Motors, the United States Department of Energy, and MathWorks. This competition series tasks universities across North America with overcoming challenges that surround the automotive and technology industries.
Currently, we are in the EcoCar Mobility Challenge; it is a four-year advanced engineering competition that tasks twelve universities across North America with hybridizing a 2019 Chevrolet Blazer. The main goal of the competition is to ultimately reduce energy consumption, integrate advanced propulsion systems and connect it with automated vehicle technology (e.g., sensors and cameras), integrate communication components that allow the vehicle to communicate with other vehicles and features in its environment (e.g., traffic lights and pedestrians), all while ensuring safety and consumer appeal.
Why should students get involved with HEVT and what are some of the benefits of being on the team?
Students should get involved with HEVT because we offer them the ability to experience something they would not typically have the opportunity to do. We have very deep connections in the industry, and the competition series we participate in was founded to give students more relevant experience that will make them stronger candidates for when they apply for jobs. Ultimately, we are looking for students who are motivated on the project so they can become stronger candidates when they pursue their own careers after they graduate.
“Ultimately, we are looking for students who are motivated on the project so they can become stronger candidates when they pursue their own careers after they graduate.”
Besides the job aspect, we offer a variety of experiences to students who are interested in challenging themselves by working on a vehicle and learning about vehicle autonomy or sensor fusion in the process; I think this is very exciting at the undergraduate level. Everyone gets a lot of academic experience in the classroom, and it can be somewhat hard or intimidating to branch out and experience something different, but our project is very exciting, so we can certainly offer a lot of opportunities to students who get involved.
Another benefit to joining HEVT is all the great experience working with different kinds of software and hardware, which is directly relevant to many different industries. Working on our team does not silo you to just go into the automotive industry because a lot of the work we do is relevant in the engineering industry in general. In addition, being on HEVT provides a lot of great experience working on a team and challenging yourself to work through problems that you likely have not faced before.
How can students get involved with HEVT?
Before the pandemic, we would encourage students to come out to the Ware Lab to volunteer and see what our team does. We are unable to do that at the moment, but interested students are encouraged to reach out to us via email at email@example.com. There, we can give students more information or direct them to someone on our team who can better answer questions and motivate them to join. We also try to send out recruitment emails to all the engineering majors; this typically happens at the middle of each semester, so we try to encourage students to keep their eyes peeled around that time to learn more about who we are and to apply if they are interested. This semester, we will begin recruitment sometime in March.
Our application asks the students questions about their experience, why they are interested in joining, and to attach their resume as well. Team leadership will review the applications and we then select candidates for interviews. We have a formal interview process that is now conducted over Zoom, and the goal is to find interested and motivated students who are willing to challenge themselves; we are not necessarily looking for people who have a ton of experience. After the interview process, we then select candidates to join the team.
Do you have to be a specific major or grade to join?
Not at all! We encourage students across the entire university to join the team, so anyone from any major or any grade is welcome to reach out and get involved. Our new team members take an independent study course in the Mechanical Engineering department that we teach, so we do tend to recruit more sophomores and juniors since their schedules are more flexible regarding when they can take it. Juniors are also able to take the course for credit, so we can give students the opportunity to complete their degree requirements across all the engineering majors. We can also grant students credit for their senior design, which is very exciting because not only are you part of a team working on projects and tasks, but you can also finish your undergraduate degree in the process. Juniors tend to reap the most benefits because they can receive these credit hours, but this does not mean we exclude other students from joining.
We typically recruit many Mechanical Engineers since our team is rooted in Mechanical Engineering and it is a very big department. We also have a lot of electrical engineers, computer engineers, and computer science majors on the team because we are working on a lot of sensor fusion and vehicle autonomy. We also have a communications team, including one to two people majoring in communications or public relations. The communications team assists us with a lot of our outreach events. We do a lot of community service, including reaching out to local schools, organizing different kinds of educational events through Virginia Tech and other organizations, and the communications team helps us coordinate all of those.
How long have you been the Project Manager of HEVT and what drew you to the position?
This is my second year as the Project Manager for HEVT. I will be graduating in May, so someone new will be taking my place, which is very exciting. When the spot for Project Manager opened for the first year I would be entering graduate school, Dr. Nelson and I had a few meetings and decided the position would be a good fit for me and, after two years, I would definitely say it was.
I have learned a lot as Project Manager and I am extremely grateful to all the undergraduate students who have been a part of the team. It is always a lot of fun working with everyone on the team because you get to form a personal connection with all the members. Since you are all working on the same project for two years or so, it is very exciting to see everyone grow as they move through college. Our industry sponsors have also been very kind, gracious, and generous, so I have been very grateful to have this opportunity and it has been a lot of fun these past two years.
What is the design/competition process for HEVT?
Currently, we are competing in the EcoCar Mobility Challenge; it is a four-year competition and we are in year three. Year one was focused on the design and component selection of the vehicle. Once you are given a stock vehicle and a list of very general requirements to meet, you have to go into CAD software and design the system, conduct market research, select components, and decide how to put everything together so you are prepared to build in year two.
Before COVID-19, year two involved building the vehicle up to baseline functionality. Years two and three are usually coupled together, so we are still finishing a lot of the integration, and we will shortly move on to vehicle testing and initial refinement to ultimately get our hybrid system to be functional. A functional hybrid system typically includes a conventional mode, meaning that the vehicle can drive with its normal engine, a motor, and battery pack to propel the vehicle or both combined together. This is the biggest hurdle, developing a robust hybrid strategy.
Year four involves the final refinement of the vehicle, including fixing up any remaining issues or optimization problems with the propulsion system and really pushing the connectivity and autonomy aspects. By the end of this year, we should have baseline longitudinal autonomy, so the vehicle can slow down if another is approaching or speed up if it is tracking another car. By year four, we are also supposed to have accomplished autonomous lane change, so the vehicle should be able to change lanes by itself. It is also supposed to have more driver monitoring features, as well as more robust communication between other vehicles and infrastructure.
There is a competition at the end of every year. Right now, we are hoping that we will still have our competition in May. Each year, it is held in a different location in the United States, so year one, the competition was in Atlanta, Georgia, and year two was supposed to be in Yuma, Arizona. At each competition, we go out to a test track with all the other universities and our vehicles and drive them over different kinds of tests and events. We then present our vehicle and how we performed to a panel of judges, who select a winner. The winners earn trophies, and the sponsors also award money to assist the schools with the next year of competition.
Virginia Tech has done well at these competitions. Unfortunately, there was no competition during year two due to the pandemic, which is why we hope to have our competition this year. In year one, we won second place overall which was very exciting, so we are hoping to continue that legacy. In the past competition series, we have consistently ranked in the top five. It is always exciting to spend so much time on something and finally see things work at the end of the year.
What is the best thing/favorite moment you have gotten out of HEVT?
My favorite moment was probably being in Atlanta for year one competition when we placed second. A lot of work goes on during the year and especially during that week at competition; you do not sleep a whole lot since you are preparing for presentations as well as practicing and refining things, so it was really gratifying to place. We knew we were neck and neck with a few schools, so it was very exciting to go up on that stage, accept the award, and thank everyone.
Any last thoughts for potential team members?
Take the risk or opportunity to explore what you think you would be interested in. It does not have to be HEVT; it can be anything. As an undergraduate student, HEVT really engaged me outside of the classroom, which I am extremely grateful for. It has been an absolutely incredible experience, so I would definitely encourage students to look for something that they are passionate about because college is a great time to expose yourself to different kinds of experiences or opportunities.
I would also like to thank everyone who has been a part of the team and who I have had the privilege to work with, from Dr. Nelson to all of our undergraduate team members. It has been a fantastic experience and they do a lot of great work.