Google’s “Little Box” Challenge
An ECE ILLINOIS’ Power Electronics team of eight students guided by Professor Robert Pilawa-Podgurski is one of 18 finalists out of more than 100 entries in Google’s and IEEE Power Electronics Society’s Little Box Challenge. Theirs was chosen based on achieved power density and efficiency, as well as novelty of the idea. The competition goal is to stimulate research in dc-ac inverters, which are essential components in renewable energy integration, grid storage, and electric transportation.
The competition requirements are to create a smaller, more compact power inverter reduced from the current “cooler” to “tablet” size, maximum. The Illinois team’s entry is closer to a “credit card.” Another goal is ease of use. With a small efficient design, the inverter can be integrated into the original power source, allowing quick access, making alternative power sources, like solar panels and electric cars, easier to handle.
The team decided to innovate on circuit and control design in order to have a long-term research impact on the field of power electronics. They worked on a shoe-string budget nights and weekends and learned things that were outside their direct area of expertise. Professor Pilawa noted that this made the students better engineers and that they will be highly sought by industry and academia.
Yutian Lei, Christopher Barth, Wen-Chuen Liu, Andrew Stillwell, and Shibin Qin, who are all graduate students and Intae Moon, an undergraduate, all worked on the project for portions of the past year. Since September of this year, graduate students Thomas Foulkes, Derek Chou, Zitao Liao, and Zichao Ye have also helped with improvement to the final prototype. “They’ve all put in a tremendous amount of work,” Pilawa said, “even while managing their coursework and other responsibilities.”
A more detailed technical explanation of the U of I entry can be found in “Little Box” under Research Projects: Motor Design, Operation, and Control.