University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Formula SAE Takes Telemetry Monitoring to the Next Level with ThingWorx




Formula SAE competitions bring out the best-of-the-best engineering students from universities around the globe to compete in designing, building and racing a small, Formula-style racecar. Just as new technology can create competitive advantages in the industry, these intelligent students actively seek new and improved ways to test and design their vehicle to make it lighter, cheaper, faster and more efficient. Guest blogger Keith Harris, Chief Engineer on the University of Illinois Formula SAE team, shares why his university is implementing ThingWorx in their build this year. Be sure to also watch the video below.

On the University of Illinois Formula SAE team, students build a race vehicle from the ground up every year to compete with universities from around the world. We design almost every component and system that goes into our car. This includes our electronics and data analytics package that goes into monitoring our car. In fact, one of the most important skill sets students learn to improve on by working on our race team is data acquisition and analysis.

Our car has hundreds of data channels. By monitoring as many aspects of the vehicle as possible, the data can help our team validate conceptual designs, improve dynamic performance, and mitigate malfunctions before they occur. Therefore, it is exceptionally important for us to have an effective and useful data acquisition system. But just as important as the data itself is the speed and accuracy at which it can be captured and interpreted. The faster a vehicle can tell our engineers what is happening to it at any point out on the track, the greater advantage he or she has to correct and optimize various parameters on the vehicle. Live telemetry can give engineers off-track an almost instantaneous look into the car’s current condition and can be extremely useful during the course of a race. With the Thingworx software suite, we aim to create a live telemetry-monitoring platform using existing vehicle sensors in order for our team to extract the maximum possible performance out of our race vehicle.

In order to accomplish this, we plan on using our existing digital communication bus and radio telemetry link and combining that with the ThingWorx API in order to get the latest data from the vehicle to our mashup. First, a multitude of sensors on the car will send data out on the vehicle’s CAN bus, a digital communication bus that allows any electronics module on the car to send and receive messages to and from all other electronics modules. Next, the telemetry module, a custom student-designed electronics module, will listen for CAN messages containing sensor data. When such a message arrives, that module will relay the message over a 900Mhz radio link to a nearby computer back in the pits. This computer will be running a student-developed application to collect the sensor messages and send them to ThingWorx. That computer will send the messages to ThingWorx via the ThingWorx REST API. Once in ThingWorx, the sensor data will be available to display in our FSAE mashup!

We designed our mashup to optimize the experience for the most critical data channels. The main page has gauges where we can monitor things like coolant temperature, oil pressure, and oil temperature. In addition, the first page has a chart that allows us to see how those data channels have changed over time. The next pages show more important data channels in several ways, including a raw value display and a gauge panel. The mashup is designed to allow for easy extension, meaning new tabs can be added to view the data in different ways. In addition, new data channels can be added to our ThingWorx mashup easily.

In conclusion, ThingWorx has proven to be a worthy and useful piece of software that has aided us significantly. During in-race and testing sessions, our telemetry module created with ThingWorx will be extremely helpful for taking a live look into the car. We look forward to exploring other use cases for the ThingWorx software suite, and are excited for what it can offer our team.

Special thanks to Keith and the whole Illini Motorsports team for providing the case study and the video. We can’t wait to see how your season turns out and wish you the best of luck! To learn more about the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign’s Formula SAE team and how you can help them this season, visit motorsports.illinois.edu and if you’d like to get access to ThingWorx for free for your collegiate design team or to utilize ThingWorx in your classroom, register today.