Troubleshooting software problems is hard — especially in Electric Cars
There’s something magical about being around anything to do with racing. In a digital age, raw speed is still exciting. Tannoys calling teams to the start line, tuned engines bursting into life and snarling as fire-suited and helmeted drivers blip the throttles and fight with clutches to try and get the perfect start.
Such were the sights and sounds as I arrived at Silverstone for the Formula Student UK 2022 event to catch up with the team from the University of Nottingham (UoN) Racing Team whom Eigen are proud to sponsor. Around 150 teams from all over the world (though mostly from the UK - but well done to the Universities of Stavanger and Malta) meet the week after the British GP to compete in three categories:
— Internal Combustion Engines (IC)
— Electric (EC)
— Autonomous (AI)
Nottingham is competing in the Electric category. Last year they won the category and came 3rd overall, but this year will be different as the team are only halfway through a 2 year project to completely rebuild the car.
It’s always a tough decision to move away from a product that’s doing well in order to invest in the future, but it’s much better to do it early than leave it too late and otherwise you can never catch up.
Around 30 of the pit garages along the National Pits Straight are crammed with up to six teams per garage. Before any car can set rubber on any of the points scoring events they have to pass scrutineering — just like in Formula 1. This checks that the cars meet the regulations and are safe to drive and it’s even more exacting for Electric Cars than for IC cars.
The event starts on Wednesday but when I arrived on Saturday no EC cars had yet passed scrutineering. The UoN team were close but were trying to track down an intermittent software fault that was preventing them getting the High Voltage (HV) circuits active so that they could go to the “shower” test. This is the test feared most by the EC teams where the car, with the HV circuits live, is hosed with water for 2 minutes and not go bang or start smoking! (and in fact do nothing other than behave completely normally!).
Troubleshooting software problems is really tough and the UoN racing team aren’t the only ones to have to have to deal with them as Audi is apparently finding with Project Artemis [Link]. Here at Eigen we know all about the challenges software can throw up and the support team at Eigen troubleshoots around 300 software problems a month for our customers.
Anyway, around 3pm on the Saturday UoN Racing became the first EC team to pass scrutineering! Too late to enter the skid pan and acceleration events and with just a couple of hours to go before the sprint events closed, but this shows just how tough it is just to get to the starting line! It’s such good experience for the students involved to take responsibility for meeting strict rules and safety requirements and great preparation for their future career.
I really enjoyed the event and I’m looking forward to next year. Electric cars are very complicated but the complexity is all hidden in the black boxes that run the software and so it’s very difficult for an outsider to appreciate just how much work goes in to making it work.