Teams rely on simulators to test and validate energy management strategies
The rise and rise of Formula E and its relevance in the development of electric vehicle technology is, having a profound effect on the development and engineering tools and practices in motorsport – in particular, for driving simulators.
Season 5 (2019) of the all-electric FIA World Championship represented the biggest leap forward for the series with completely new second-generation cars, the addition of brand new street circuits and the arrival of official manufacturer teams such as BMW, Audi, Nissan, Porsche and Mercedes, who join Jaguar, DS, NIO and Mahindra.
Ushering in ‘Formula E 2.0’ was not without its unique challenges though, as Dennis Marcus, Commercial Manager, Automotive and Motorsport at Cruden, the simulator manufacturer and integrator explains.
“With Formula E races taking place on street circuits there is virtually no time for teams to test the exact track and circuit outside of a race week. Particularly when new circuits are added to the calendar, teams rely on simulators even more than before to test and validate their energy management strategy, by individual race. Additionally, the second-generation is now capable of running a full race on a single charge.
“Formula E races are time limited, which requires an entirely different race strategy for energy management as the pace of the race is determined by the car leading the race. A key factor is that the team cannot influence its car during the race. Even their telemetry is delayed. The drivers are on their own and therefore, pre-race development and preparation is essential. Engineers have to work together with the driver to provide them with the best tools to manage the energy during the race. So there’s a lot to consider even before evaluating the new dynamics and handling of the car!” says Dennis.
Teams such as Mahindra Racing employ a bespoke Formula E simulator for set-up development, race strategy and energy management optimisation, development of control systems and driver training. The team’s Cruden system comes with Cruden’s proprietary Panthera simulator software, which allows the racing team’s vehicle model, which is also used for lap time simulation, to be integrated and used as a real-time driver-in-the-loop (DIL) simulation model. Furthermore, it has access to a full library of Formula E street circuits as Cruden produces accurate reproductions of all the tracks.
Marcus adds: “Cruden’s involvement in Formula E is helping to accelerate the development of the simulators themselves. Through our partnerships, we have developed systems that offer the high quality visualisation and low latency that drivers need to control the car in the simulator as they do the real car. On motion-based platforms, the steering inputs and movements correlate directly with what’s been shown on the screen. Engineers can programme and fine-tune race parameters with extreme accuracy. Cruden also develops and supplies all elements of the simulator system, providing integration support of third party products like the vehicle model steering wheel and ECU.”
Dr. David Batterbee, Senior Simulation and Performance Engineer, Mahindra Racing, said: “One of the most important features of a high-performance racing simulator is driver immersion. For maximum benefit, the driver must perceive minimal difference between the simulator and the actual car. Important factors include having high quality graphics and visuals, providing accurate cues for understeer/oversteer/locking, having driver controls that provide the correct feedback (steering, brakes, throttle response, steering wheel controls), using a well-correlated vehicle and tire model and having a high resolution track scan.
“Accurate modelling of battery energy flow and thermal behavior are also especially important for Formula E. Getting all these factors right maximizes the performance that can be extracted from the simulator and ensures that problems being solved are equivalent to those experienced on track. Our simulator enables us to develop and map the brake-by-wire system, explore the new aerodynamic platform as well as the thermal and energy management of the battery package.”
The influential role simulators are playing in the motorsport development – and consequently for OEMs in road car research and development – has made simulators far more accessible. For what was once the preserve of Formula 1 teams with limitless budgets, high-performance simulators and the software supporting it, are now becoming more freely available.
In keeping with Formula E’s pioneering strategy and structure for a level playing field, the use of simulators ensures that smaller, independent teams can still compete with works outfits thanks to systems and integration software provided by the likes of Cruden and others.
Dennis Marcus explains: “Building and running simulators used to be bespoke projects in their own right but such is the rate of development and the widespread use, especially as we see with Formula E, they have become development tools that can be purchased and used straightaway. With the accuracy of today’s systems, it provides a faster and more agile way to develop and validate products and we are seeing a decentralisation of development thanks to cloud-based tools, which is reducing travel time and costs for the engineers as they don’t need to be present at a specialised test rig location.
“Furthermore, this is also having a profoundly positive effect on the new generation of engineers coming through, too. Cruden provides a free version of its Panthera software, which is being used by universities to train graduates on simulators as the technology becomes more and more widespread in our industry.”