FPGA-Based Engine Control

Team 15 Designex members: Tina Chu, Simon Au, Eddie Lau, and Richard Yu

Something controls many of the functions on your car and it’s not you. Engine Control Modules (ECM) are the electronic brains of modern vehicles, controlling functions such as anti-lock braking, automatic doors, power windows, and headlights.

Project customer Andrew Watchorn of National Instruments wanted to show the company’s LabVIEW FPGA development platform at trade shows by designing an ECM to control the steering, throttle, cruise control, gear shifting, speedometer, head lights, break lights, and turn signals of a fuel-powered radio-controlled (RC) car. The FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) is an integrated circuit that can be programmed in the field after manufacture.

A PlayStation controller wheel replaced the standard RC controller for a more realistic driving experience. The students created the software so that the FPGA translates the PlayStation controller signal into a signal that the RC car accepts. The team also created the user interface for the computer to monitor the car functions controlled by the ECM.

One challenge the team faced was in designing the speedometer. After a few attempts, they mounted a magnet on the car’s wheel, which uses a sensor that allows the FPGA to count the number of revolutions of the wheel. All of the signals between the modules and the FPGA are transmitted wirelessly.

“Our system is adjustable and we can fine-tune it regarding how much it turns and other things. We can adapt it with minimal work,” said Eddie Lau. The software they designed could be adapted for use on any RC car, a good thing since the car used in their project crashed head-on into a brick wall shortly before ECE Day.

For their successful, working FPGA-based engine control module that went beyond the original customer specifications and their admirable team dynamics, Team Designex received the 2006 P.T. Hsu Award. This award is given annually at the College of Engineering’s Awards Day in the honor of former Professor P. T. Hsu, who taught Senior Design in the late 1970s. The award is based on degree of success in providing a working project; degree of satisfaction of customer’s requirements; difficulty of project; elegance or innovation in the design; quality of written final documentation; quality of final ECE Day presentation; degree of good design practices exhibited by project; effectiveness of team dynamics during the semester; and incorporation of “soft” design issues (safety, green design, ethics, service).