Automotive design gets $1M for R&D

August 10, 2009

Waterloo, Ont.: A researcher at the University of Waterloo has been awarded $1 million to work with software and automotive partners on a better way to design cars.
John McPhee, executive director of the Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research (WatCAR), has been named NSERC/Toyota/Maplesoft industrial research chair in mathematics-based modeling and design. Over the next five years, he will work with software developers at Maplesoft and engineers at Toyota on a faster, and thus better, approach to designing automobiles.
“The support we are receiving from our three partners will speed up what’s known as the ‘model-based design’ of new products, an approach being embraced by the auto industry as it strives to be more efficient and responsive to consumer demands,” explains McPhee. “We are partnering with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Toyota and Maplesoft to advance this approach, which will ultimately result in better cars built in Canada.”
Current engineering design uses computer models to explore different product concepts and evaluate performance. Unfortunately, most existing models are numerical, hiding the physics behind reams of data. A more natural approach involves mathematical theory and computer algorithms to create engineering models that are easily viewed and shared between colleagues.
As chair holder, McPhee will collaborate with computer experts at Maplesoft and engineers at Toyota to develop math-based models and computer simulations, with a focus on automotive applications such as vehicle dynamics, mechatronic powertrains and hybrid electric vehicles. They will develop special model-reduction methods to run computer simulations more quickly, which is crucial to designing on-board computers that control everything from the engine performance to the vehicle stability.
The models, along with hardware-in-the-loop testing, can identify key variables in a system in real time. This results in fewer expensive tests and prototypes, and helps engineers find the best possible design.