Designing a Lighter, Cheaper, More Reliable Vehicle

in Awards, Courses, Faculty, Graduate Programs, Graduate Student Opportunities, Graduate Students, News-CE, Recognition, Research, Research-CE, Students
May 21st, 2013

Pictured from left to right, Wei Si (PhD '15), Morteza Hashemi (PhD '16), and Professors Ari Trachtenberg (ECE) and David Starobinski (ECE) are working with General Motors Research to determine if using wireless sensor networks might be a greener way to construct tomorrow's vehicles.

Pictured from left to right, Wei Si (PhD '15), Morteza Hashemi (PhD '16), and ECE Professors Ari Trachtenberg and David Starobinski are working with General Motors Research to determine if using wireless sensor networks might be a greener way to construct tomorrow's vehicles.

Auto technology has come a long way over the years and includes recent advances ranging from night vision to automatic high-beam controls. With these new developments come more physical wires that will increase the cost, weight, and maintenance of a car.

“In the future, as much as four kilometers of wires may be necessary for a car to operate,” said Wei Si (PhD ’15). “On top of that, these wires could weigh as much as 40 kilograms, an amount that would have a bad effect on fuel consumption.”

To solve this potential problem before it happens, Si and Morteza Hashemi (PhD ’16) have been working with Electrical & Computer Engineering Professors David Starobinski and Ari Trachtenberg, as well as General Motors Research, to determine if using wireless sensor networks (WSN) might be a greener way to construct tomorrow’s vehicles.

Some research has already been done on wireless car sensors and electronic control units (ECU) arranged in a single-hop model, but the BU research team thinks this can be improved.

“[In existing models], if some sensor-to-ECU links experience high power loss, then the quality of service degrades,” they wrote in an abstract about their work. Instead, they’re working on a multi-hop model that uses different sensors to cooperate and relay information in the car.

“Our results show that the transmission rate of previous models can be as low as 78 percent while our network performs at higher than 95 percent,” they wrote in their abstract, adding that their design provides energy savings as well.

Spending more than three years of work on the project, the researchers’ efforts are paying off. After competing in Scholars Day, the annual Boston University graduate student research symposium, Hashemi and Si have won both the Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cybersecurity Award as well as the Provost’s Award.

The research team tested out sensors, like this one attached to the suspension system of the front wheel, on a Cadillac Escalade.

The research team tested out sensors, like this one attached to the suspension system of the front wheel, on a Cadillac Escalade.

“We were very proud of Morteza and Wei for this accomplishment,” said Trachtenberg. “They had stiff competition from some very good researchers.”

Trachtenberg and Hashemi both said that they think their research stood out because it was easy to understand and could be applied to a real-life issue.

“One of the critical skills we try to teach is being able to talk about your research to those outside of your field,” said Trachtenberg. “They did a very good job in presenting their work in a way that was clear to a non-engineering audience.”

Still, finding success wasn’t always easy. The students were met with many challenges, including having only three weeks to test their work on a Cadillac Escalade and quickly discovering their initial design needed to be altered significantly.

“Sometimes, we’d stay up all night working,” said Hashemi, “but we’ve learned a lot along the way and hope the learning process continues.”

After seeing the long hours his students are putting into the project, Starobinski has noticed that the Ph.D. candidates are gaining confidence in their research, too.

“This project involves possessing a good understanding of various fields including wireless networks and low system processing,” said Starobinski. “They’ve done a great job using what they’ve learned in courses and applying it to a real-world application.”

-Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)