The electrical systems on a race car are naturally not as easily visible as the mechanical parts. But if you were to turn the race car transparent, you would see wires run like blood vessels and a battery pack providing “electrical blood” like a heart. Read on, and you’ll learn more about what makes the electrical department an inspiring workplace.
Electrically-powered Formula Student race cars present a unique set of challenges and opportunities compared to their internal combustion engine counterparts. While combustion engine race cars rely on a complex system of mechanical components to convert fuel into motion, electric race cars use electrical energy stored in an accumulator to power electric motors.
Revolve NTNU has been producing Formula Student race cars since 2012, with the first electric race car, KOG Arctos R, being produced in 2014. KOG Arctos R is Norway’s first electric race car. The car features an fully electric drivetrain, rear wheel drive and a carbon fiber monocoque, resulting in a weight loss of 65 kg compared to its predecessor KA Aquilo R.
Since then Revolve NTNU’s technology has been developing at an exponential rate. Our latest vehicle, Aurora, featured a 600V accumulator capable of providing 7.3Kwh of energy. It also had an electric motor in each wheel, controlled by our in-house developed inverter. This gives the car four-wheel drive, which is utilized by our self developed torque vectoring algorithm. But not only our electric drivetrain has seen an improvement. Aurora also featured over 60 self developed Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) and over 300 individual sensors, giving us precise information on how the car is behaving on the track.
As the Chief Electrical Engineer at Revolve NTNU, my responsibilities include overseeing all aspects of the car's electronics. I am an active member in developing cutting-edge technology, including the design and implementation of Revolve NTNU's battery pack, custom PCBs, and embedded software. My experience in electronics, circuit design, and CAD has helped me with some of the big choices I've had to take during my time as Chief Electrical Engineer. I also manage and lead two groups of 13 extremely dedicated members. Additionally, as a member of the Board, I’ve had a word when it comes to determining the organization's direction, shaping the car’s concepts, and organizing the team of 60 people to build a race car.
Being the Chief Electrical Engineer at Revolve NTNU is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for me to both hone my leadership skills and advance my knowledge in electronics, software, and project management.
The electrical department is divided into two groups, Power Systems and Embedded Electronics. Power Systems is responsible for providing reliable high voltage and current from our in-house designed battery pack to the motors in the most efficient way possible. Employing safe monitoring tools and ensuring that any failure in the electrical system will not harm the driver or crew are important tasks. Embedded Electronics on the other hand, is responsible for all of the low voltage electronics. Their work mainly consists of designing, producing and testing PCBs, as well as developing the embedded software needed for the PCBs to function as intended.
The production timeline for the electrical department can be divided along with the two groups. Power Systems follow a more traditional production timeline. This means that the Autumn semester is spent designing and validating designs, whilst the spring semester consists of mostly production and assembly. Embedded Electronics is the odd one out when it comes to production. Their production consists of two separate production timelines, one being the prototype, and the other being the completed product that is to be placed on the car. Both of these ways of production have their own pros and cons. Power systems rely on good validation and thorough planning for their systems to be optimal. While embedded systems need detailed test plans to ensure the final product has fixed all the errors plaguing the prototypes.
Revolve NTNU’s overall goal is to place amongst the top 3 in all competitions we attend. For this to be achieved, the car needs to perform exceptionally well in two areas; speed and reliability. Whilst the mechanical groups have indulged in the “spikkekultur” (Norwegian: “spikke ned på vekt”; trying to reduce the overall weight of the car as much as possible), the Electrical department is mostly about reliability and safety. This ties back to the Embedded Electronics way of production. With two production runs, the amount of errors tends to decrease quite a bit. Through thorough testing with the physical PCB’s, the systems in Embedded Electronics are usually good to go once placed into the car. Power Systems tend to lean more into the “spikkekultur”, with their traditional production timeline.
One of the biggest things happening in the electronics department this year is the development of our new in-house produced inverter, the I21. This is Revolve NTNU’s second in-house developed inverter, with the first one being used on the 2019 car Nova. This new inverter is 1 kg lighter, and 66% smaller in volume than its predecessor, the I19. Development on this system started in 2020, but was halted due to covid-19. It was further developed, and had its first prototype produced in 2021, hence the name I21. This year, we have produced the production PCB’s, and have already gotten each of the 4 individual cards to spin the motors up to 20k RPM! And even as I'm writing, we are continuously testing to get the I21 inverter ready for competition.
Needless to say, being a part of the electrical department allows you to get first-hand experience working with state-of-the-art technology. This makes for a unique experience you won’t get by just watching lectures and taking notes in a classroom. We are excited about what this year’s team and race car will achieve, as well as what the future holds. Are you the next member of our electrical department?