Thirty students at Colorado State University have been thinking a lot about the future recently. For the next three years, CSU has tied itself to the future of the automotive industry as a participant in its quest for sustainable transportation. And with a new donation from Siemens, the university is now using an additional $44.5 million of cutting-edge software to do so.
The university's most recent gift, the largest in its history, arrives hand-in-hand with its enrollment in the EcoCAR2 program. Led by fourteen schools across the U.S. and sponsored by the Department of Energy and industry giants such as GM, EcoCAR2 is a three-year project devoted to creating sustainable models for fuel-efficient vehicles.
"Siemens has given us this software to accelerate our productivity in the program," says Tom Bradley, the assistant professor of mechanical engineering leading the school's participation in EcoCAR2. "The students don't care about the dollar signs or that kind of stuff. What they really care about is the caliber of the software, the cutting-edge technology and the powerful capabilities for use in their classroom."
In addition to forty licenses for Siemens PLM engineering software, the thirty students participating in the program recently received a trip to Pontiac, Michigan, where they are currently being trained on how to use it. The software's greatest advantage is its ability to combine an entire project into one sequence, an effort that previously required multiple types of software and put strains on communication.
"It follows the product's complete life cycle through production to disposal, even," Bradley says. "The best part is that it's comparable to our partners in the industry. This is what they use in real life."
In its first year, the goals of EcoCAR2 will be achieved mostly at the brainstorming level, through design and analysis that can be performed with the new software. The second year will progress all the way through the completion of a mule vehicle used to test those plans. Although the fifteen participating schools are ranked annually, the real competition ends with the performance of the finished car after the third year.
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Each car's design is intended to further national efforts to lower emissions and reduce criteria pollutants. "This competition will be able to raise CSU's education and research profile on a national level," Bradley says. "It's pretty rare and exciting for students to get this kind of access to industry people. We're assembling this network of people who are going to be very interested in CSU grads form this program, and the students are developing the skill sets they need to make it."
Although CSU's EcoCAR group is comprised predominantly of seniors, the students will be able to keep in contact with the program as the school's car develops. As they near graduation, the program leaves a weighty line on their résumé in addition to their diplomas.
"The goal is to design the future of vehicles," Bradley says. "It's a big goal. This project has an environmental edge to it, and it's really motivated to improve society. The students will come out as balanced engineers."
More from our Education archive: "WeCar: DU sustainable-transportation program surpasses expectations in first week."