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Faculty Taking Model-Based Design Skills to China for Outreach Experience

June 4, 2013

Story by Marianne Messina, Web Manager

Picture a typical empty classroom with seating for about 30 students. Then add students streaming in until there are 85 students anxious to hear the upcoming lecture.

That’s the scene Rose-Hulman professors Marc Herniter, PhD, and Zac Chambers, PhD, encountered when teaching an introductory model-based systems design course last summer at Jilin University, China’s largest automotive educational institution.

       Faculty Duo Horizontal
  Popular Duo: Professors Marc Herniter (left) and Zac Chambers will introduce Chinese students to Model-Based Design principles this summer. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

They came away feeling like rock stars as the Chinese students applauded their arrival and their exit each day.

“I’m the rock star, he’s the brains,” jokes Herniter, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Both professors are returning to China this summer to present a four-day mini-course. The trip is being sponsored by the Office of Global Programs.

Herniter and Chambers, co-faculty advisors for the EcoCAR sustainable vehicle development project, earned expertise in model-based systems design the same way they teach it—through hands-on experience.

“We worked on three different hybrid vehicle systems over the past 10 years with about five integrated software vendors, and taught three different model-based design courses,” says Herniter.

Course material came from notes on their projects, with some modification for the Chinese audience. “It’s normally a two-day course that we’re teaching in four days,” says Herniter. Several hands-on activities and one-on-one learning have been built into the curriculum.

“We teach them the Model-in-the-Loop (MIL) portion of EcoCAR, building an MIL model of a hybrid vehicle using MATLAB, Simulink, and Stateflow,” says Herniter. “MIL is the first level of testing, and relies on models that are completely digital, requiring no hardware,” he states.

For students, working with MIL means “you can change parameters rather quickly,” says Chambers, an associate professor of mechanical engineering who is a 1994 Rose-Hulman alumnus. He points out engineers can also save money on expensive real-world trial-and-error techniques. “We have blown up thousands of virtual engines,” he says. “That is way cheaper than doing it for real.”

Rose-Hulman’s three model-based design courses also feature instruction in Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) and Software-in-the-Loop (SIL), levels of physical components model testing. Graduates with knowledge in these areas are highly sought by manufacturers in several technical career fields. MathWorks and Freescale are providing software for the upcoming tour, and these professional relationships attract cutting-edge product development resources to Rose-Hulman.