McMaster’s Innovative Use of Dataspeed iPDS in EcoCAR EV Challenge | Dataspeed

Dataspeed is a Supporter level sponsor of the EcoCAR EV Challenge and has donated an intelligent Power Distribution System (iPDS) to each team. The McMaster team is currently utilizing Dataspeed’s iPDS to test and develop their project vehicle, a 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ. The McMaster team kindly shared their progress and insights on the challenge, shedding light on why they opted to acquire two additional iPDS units.

My name is Vincent Lombardi, and I am a PhD student and the Electrical Lead at the McMaster EcoCAR team. This is our third competition with EcoCAR. Currently, we’re in year two of the EcoCAR EV Challenge. It started last September, and we’re now going into year two of a four year competition. 

This year is heavily focused on the integration of our vehicle, and we’ll be doing all of our mass wiring and electronics, as well as integration of mechanical and programming of the vehicle. Then in the following two years, it will be heavily focused on software optimizations.

When we found out about the iPDS unit, we were really excited. Especially because some of the learnings we’ve found in previous competitions. In EcoCAR 3, as well as EcoCAR 4 – we’re in EcoCAR 5 right now – our team specifically designed our fuse boxes and power distribution systems from scratch. While that was a good learning experience, it was a lot of overhead work when we’re already trying to build an entire vehicle. In the past, we had to design the fuse boxes with all of the relays, as well as the control board circuits to actually switch those circuits. 

I’ll give you an example. In EcoCAR 4 we were building our fuse boxes as well as designing PCPs to control them and that’s when Covid struck, and it ended up being a lot of delays for us because while we were trying to build a vehicle. We also had to design our own internal product that was basically just a fuse box with simple switching. Once we found out about the iPDS and its capabilities to handle all the stuff for us, plus all the advanced features it had, we were really excited to use it. Specifically, for us we have a lot of switched power components and a lot of different things that we want to be able to control to reduce how much load is on our vehicle battery when we don’t need certain features in use.

Previously, we have run into issues where we have a lot of parasitic draw from components being on all the time because we don’t have enough switchable power distribution points or just having unknown amount of current being drawn because we weren’t able to monitor it. Some of the features that we like most about the iPDS are the individually switched and controlled current channels, the 12 different channels, but also the fact that each of those channels has it’s own current monitoring because that has really helped us determine what loads we’re going to be seeing from the different devices in our vehicle. 

Additionally, being able to turn off certain features when we don’t need them is a plus. Also, the fact that it’s CAN controlled instead of our old ones that were all digital IO. Instead of having two wires for CAN, we had 13, 14, 15 switched wires, so the fact that it’s on our CAN bus is really exciting because we can control it from a vehicle supervisory controller and other devices in the vehicle. We’re really excited to implement that in the vehicle because it’s reduced our team’s overhead a lot, and it has a bunch of features that will be useful to us.

The EcoCAR organizers, Argonne National Labs, have specified that the iPDS needs to be used for the CAVs (Connected Autonomous Vehicle systems). They want to be able to monitor the current draw on all of these CAVs components. The CAVs components are used for features such as self-driving, self-parking, adaptive cruise control, and because this is a student-built car, there are situations where these features can go wrong and accidents can occur. 

For that reason, the competition specified that the iPDS needs to be used to power these components so that if needed, we can turn them off. The original iPDS unit in our rules for the competition will say that it is used to control the CAVs features. So when we first got our original iPDS, we were under the impression that we were going to use it to control our CAVs features and that’s about it. 

We were going to do our own fuse boxes for the rest of the stuff in the car, but when we received the iPDS and started playing around with it and started using the software and testing all the features, we realized that while it is great for all the CAVs components that the competition needs us to monitor, it’s also a great product for all of our other switching in the vehicle.

While we’re using one of the iPDS units for all of those CAVs components that the competition requires, we want to use our additional iPDS unit for all of our other power switching in the car. In our case, that is things such as setting the power to our inverters, setting the power to our digital touch screens throughout the car, our coolant pumps, our radiator fans, all of the other power electronics stuff that we would usually be switching through our team made fuse box, we decided we would use an iPDS. We found out that you can link two of them together and daisy chain them and then we can do all of our control in one software interface. 

That is why we ordered the second one. The reason why we ordered a third, so we have a total of three, is because our team likes to have redundant amount of parts because we also do a lot of test benching. Beyond just being an EcoCAR team and a club at our university, we work with the McMaster Automotive Research Center, which is a research facility. To us, EcoCAR is a research project, so while we’re designing our vehicle we also do test bench set ups or test in vehicle dynamometers. Our third one is used as a backup for redundancy if we do decide we need another one, but also so that we can run test bench set ups.

I found it pretty typical for all the other automotive products that I have worked with. I just went on the website and I downloaded the software package, and it ran right away and connected. I liked that. I also like that you can edit the scripts right within it, and I found all the features I needed pretty easily. The user interface on the computer – that was definitely useful for us. We started messing around with the script writing and found it pretty easy to use.

The McMaster Team running test bench set ups

That is one of our favorite features. We didn’t realize it right away that it was a touch screen at all. We actually started playing around with it and realized that you can monitor all the current in real time as well as turn all the channels on and off. Especially for us, who do a lot of bench testing and trying to get things working, that has been super useful. Instead of having to pull out a computer or get another device to send CAN messages, we’re able to just turn things on and off right on the touch screen and monitor all the different channels while we’re testing on the bench, so that’s a really nice feature. It’s actually a competition requirement to be in the vehicle from the organizers for the upcoming testing at the end of the year, so that will be mounted in the cupholder. The organizers will use it to monitor all of our current. It’s definitely a useful feature because in the past, we would have had to give them a laptop or had to connect to some other third party device. Now they can just look at it right on the touchscreen.

Not yet, especially because our car is so complex and has so many moving parts. Right now, we’re just keeping it simple. It will be nice to be able to use the automatic power sequencing modes, but right now, we’re just looking at the on-and-off and the startup and shutdown. Having different modes for valet and putting it in modes where we don’t want certain things active will be useful, so we tried them and saw how they worked, but we haven’t actually implemented them yet.

Honestly, really great. When we got the original unit, we had no problems. We got it super quick, and we have already had it for a while. We had a couple questions regarding how to flash the firmware, so we reached out and got support on that, no problem. Then when we realized that we wanted to continue using these products further I reached out for a quote and heard back within just a couple days. I think within a week or so after that we had the products on the way to us. It’s been a great experience so far.

One of the features that is going to be really important to us with the Dataspeed iPDS is the ability to link current channels together. Our vehicle has a lot of components that have a really high power draw. For example, our main computation unit in our vehicle can pull up to about 25 amps, and it’s just a computer. The Dataspeed channels are limited to 12 individually, but there’s a channel bridging feature that lets you bridge channels together to control larger appliances that use more power and that’s a feature that is not available on a lot of other products that we looked at for our additional power distribution unit. That’s a feature that I’m really excited to use because it will allow us to actually power those larger components without another third-party solution or another device so I am excited about that.

The McMaster Team with the 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ

Yeah, absolutely. Again, having the third one in our building lets us continue to do research on test benches. It’s definitely a product I’d recommend to other research teams within our building or even not within our building. Especially because it really gets you started in running towards what you’re trying to complete a lot faster. 

If you don’t have a product like that, you might have to build your fuse box or source one that’s not already built with CAN and have all the features you need which can really slow down your development time. Having a product like the iPDS that’s already built and ready to go where you can start powering your devices is really helpful to get your project moving fast. I would definitely recommend it.


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