It's hard to do anything these days without a computer-even save the environment. When a group of Penn State engineering students were given the task of creating a more fuel-efficient sport-utility vehicle, they looked no further than Information Technology Services (ITS) for help.
The students will compete with fourteen other universities in the FutureTruck 2003 Competition, a national project that seeks innovative ways to reduce fuel consumption. ITS recycled five 390E IBM Thinkpads from computing labs, then donated them to the FutureTruck project. The laptops will be used for everything from diagnostic testing to writing technical progress reports during the competition in Romeo, Michigan, June 2-12.
FutureTruck is a four-year project that combines the resources of industry, government, and academia to address growing environmental concerns about sport-utility vehicles. This year, FutureTruck sponsors include the U.S. Department of Energy, Ford Motor Company, and the National Science Foundation. Ford donated Ford Explorers to the participating universities, and students are working to redesign the trucks into more energy-efficient hybrid-electric vehicles.
The computers donated by ITS will be used for a variety of purposes, says FutureTruck participant Eric Reischer, a Penn State mechanical engineering student. "The intention for the use of the laptops is to use them as 'pit crew' machines, which will allow them to monitor the health of the vehicle at all times across a wireless link," Reischer says. "In other words, the engineers back in the pit areas can constantly monitor telemetry coming from the vehicle and look for anomalies which could indicate that a specific system is failing."
One or two of the computers will be added to the interior of the vehicle as well, and will be programmed to cull data from different sources and act as a central collection point. The laptops will also be used to develop control algorithms and simulation software, write technical reports, and perform real-time data acquisition and diagnostic testing.
Dr. Daniel Haworth, professor of mechanical engineering at University Park, has acted as the faculty advisor to the Penn State FutureTruck project since 2001. He oversees approximately seventy students involved in the project. Dr. Haworth explains that the development team formulates a plan and a budget for the project, and then implements the plan by replacing original parts of the vehicle with newly engineered, more fuel-efficient parts. The reengineered Explorers must yield a 25 percent higher fuel economy. The teams are judged on a variety of other factors, as well.
"The focus is very much on reducing fuel consumption," Dr. Haworth says, "but also on not giving up anything in fuel emissions, performance, creature comforts, all of it. We get graded on all of it."
In June, Penn State's FutureTruck Development Team, primarily composed of undergraduate engineering students, will travel to Ford's Michigan Proving Ground outside Detroit to showcase their retooled, more environmentally friendly Explorer in the competition. Penn State has been competing in the FutureTruck initiative since 1999, and each year, the team has shown marked improvements. Last year, Penn State was awarded the Cisco Telematics Award, as well as the award for Most Improved Team at the 2002 competition in Yucca, Arizona.
For more information about the FutureTruck competition, visit http://www2.mne.psu.edu/futuretruck/ or http://www.futuretruck.org/.
For information about ITS computer donations, e-mail Kent Becker at email@example.com.