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State-of-the-art R&D facility opens

The University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, has built a new research center dedicated to the development of greener and intelligent vehicle technologies


A new, C$10m Green and Intelligent Automotive (GAIA) research center is to open at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, next week (January 18). It will enable engineers to gain new insights into mechanical, electrical, thermal, and wireless behavior of powertrains and hybrid/electric vehicles, as well as validate new vehicle technologies in real-world conditions. Its infrastructure will be tightly integrated using a model-based design, enabling simultaneous system-level testing of components from each of its test cells: powertrain, battery, and vehicle.

Professor John McPhee will head up the operation and work alongside seven other experts from four different departments as well as students and researchers from industry organizations.

Of the total investment, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada contributed an initial C$1m in seed funding, with a further C$3.1m funded by the university itself and C$2.1m from each of the governments of Canada and Ontario through the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund: Research Infrastructure (ORF-RI) programs.

“The funding from our government and industry partners supports our team’s 145 graduate students and staff who are working on transformative technologies for the next generation of green powertrains and wireless-enabled intelligent controllers,” says McPhee.

“We have established an immense program of research in this area, and the GAIA infrastructure is absolutely crucial to the advancement and eventual commercialization of this work.”

The initial proposal for the facility was put forward around four years ago, and establishing its design, which took almost two years to complete, was a particular challenge according to McPhee: “This was very tricky because it has so much equipment inside requiring high levels of power and cooling and to make that more complicated, all the equipment has to be tightly integrated with one another.”

The new labs covering an area of 53ft x 74ft (16m x 22.5m) are within an old building, which was completely gutted before construction commenced in March 2015. “We took out all of the floors and the ground. Basically, the only thing that was left were some of the supporting columns and the roof. Then we added additional support columns to reinforce the roof because there’s so much cooling equipment,”McPhee explains.

“We also had to dig in pits for the rolling road dyno and the permanent magnet (PM) dynos, which sit on a massive steel bedplate supported by a large block of concrete to absorb vibrations.” 

There are three test cell labs housing approximately C$5m worth of equipment. The majority was supplied by A&D Technology. The powertrain test cell houses three 300kW PM dynamometers, which unlike the AC dynos used at other universities, are capable of handling rapid torque pulsations.

The full vehicle test cell houses a four-wheel-drive rolling road with a 200kW chassis dynamometer for measurement of torque, speed, emissions and fuel on a complete range of vehicles (combustion, electric and hybrid).

The battery test cell consists of a bi-directional charging system with vehicle-to-grid capabilities, battery cell and pack cyclers, an environmental chamber, and electrochemical measurement equipment.

“This infrastructure is essential to predict the lifetime and performance of battery systems in real-world conditions, including the integration of PHEVs and EVs with our electrical grid, and to study thermal management issues that are critical to EV and PHEV performance.”

All cells are linked via a common data acquisition and control system and, says McPhee, this unique hardware-in-the-loop setup makes it one of a kind.

“Further integration of the GAIA lab will be realized by a dense wireless sensor network that provides essential communications between wireless sensors, ground stations and onboard computer controllers. This also distinguishes our facility from any other in North America.”

Research will be organized under three topics: next generation hybrid and electric powertrain systems; advanced energy storage and vehicle-to-grid charging systems; and intelligent vehicle technologies.

“It’ll become an incubator of ideas for smarter, greener cars, bringing together Waterloo’s very large research groups,” McPhee says. “In particular, GAIA will enable us to develop new technologies to reduce emissions from internal combustion engines in conventional vehicles and HEVs and introduce new intelligent systems to reduce fuel and power consumption in PHEVs, EVs and autonomous vehicles.

“In one application for example, we plan to develop a hybrid powertrain and controller solution for anti-idling in service vehicles, which we will be able to test under real-world conditions before prototyping.

“We will also develop new power electronics and vehicle controllers that will enable PHEVs and EVs to be an integral part of Canada’s electrical grid. Our controllers will make use of new models and developments in battery technology and thermal management, as well as route preview information available from novel sensors and wireless networks that can perform reliably within the harsh physical and electromagnetic environment of a PHEV powertrain.”

As a main sponsor, Toyota will have priority concerning projects that are undertaken at the facility; however GAIA is an open facility, available to any interested party. “We work with all the major OEMs here and we’ve already had visitors from all over the world to check the new facility out. We expect to be very busy!” enthuses McPhee.

January 14, 2016


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