Formula Student

FS Volunteer Interview: Alastair Stevenson

Formula Student Team

Alastair is a familiar face amongst the volunteers as part of the scrutineering team. As they prepare to scrutineer a record number of electric vehicles this year, we found out why you should consider volunteering as part of his team.

Want to join this year's Formula Student competition as a volunteer? Read the full descriptions of all the available opportunities here and submit your application before the end of February 2022 to get involved!

What's your history in relation to Formula Student, what area of the competition are you involved in and how long have you been involved?

AS: I was a member of the University of Strathclyde Motorsport FS team in 2005 to 2007, leading the Electrical Systems design and implementation in 2007. I was one of only two people that did the electrics "full time” in 06 and 07.

I’ve lost track of when I started volunteering with FS, but I think it was 2013. I started off as an EV scrutineer, with a strong LV DC electronics background but very little experience about High Voltages, electric propulsion, or power electronics! It was a steep but manageable learning curve with the extremely supportive group in the EV domain. I progressed to run the Accumulator bay, where the teams' designed and built batteries are inspected for rules and safety; battery charging also takes place in this area. I stepped away from EV for a year or so in 2016-17 to help setup the FSAI competition where I helped shape the initial FSAI rules and was part of the team that realised the Formula student ADS-DV autonomous cars. Nowadays I’m the Deputy Chief EV Scrutineer.

What is your current role at Formula Student?

AS: My role is now assisting Mike, the Chief EV scrutineer, in improving and managing the EV rules revisions each year, helping with teams’ submitted documentation reviews in advance of the competition, managing the competition’s fleet of EV datalogging equipment and at the competition helping to rally the volunteers. The idea is to be available for when there’s an obscurity or a query that would benefit from my years of experience. Above all, always identifying improvements and learning points.

What is your motivation for your involvement in FS?

AS: My motivation for remaining involved with FS is that it was by far the highlight of my university time, and I hold those memories so dearly. I have an enormous respect for the competition and the organisers, they’re an incredibly passionate and accomplished group; and I love being able to do whatever I can with the committee to ensure each year is as good or better than the years before. I know how much I benefitted from being involved as a competitor so being able to support and educate students in their journey now is brilliant. (Even if they don’t appreciate the constructive feedback at the time!!). I see the joy and the motivation in the eyes of the teams now and I remember the same emotions. Formula Student a very powerful thing to be part of.

Meeting Jenson Button at Silverstone

What advice would you give to someone considering being involved in your area?

AS: If anyone was considering getting involved with EV scrutineering I’d be delighted to welcome them to the team. We have various disciplines: low voltage testing, high voltage testing, accumulator (battery) inspection, energy meter analysis and dynamic event EV safety support. You might be coming from a direct EV background which is excellent, or you might just be affiliated with Formula Student and are interested in the electrical side. We have an EV group WhatsApp, and there’s lots of support available for upskilling. No question is too daft as the rules can sometimes appear to be quite obscure until they’re demystified by a seasoned judge.

Do you have a funny / poignant / interesting story or anecdote about an FS experience that you'd like to share?

AS: One great memory I have epitomised the spirit of FS and the seriousness with which we take the competition and its rules, in order to educate and set example. Quite some years ago we were unfortunate enough to have to disqualify a Scandinavian team in one event for marginally breaking the voltage and power limits for an EV car during a dynamics run. The datalogger software was irrefutably showing a brief violation. The team were graceful in accepting the result but were absolutely convinced they didn’t breach. We set about a formal appeal process where we made the most of the FS sponsorship from Mathworks to replicate the data analysis process in Matlab and apply the filters and calculations independently on the data. The violation still stood, but one final check was to use laboratory grade test equipment that one EV scrutineer, Keith, just happened to have in his car from his day job. The conclusion was that we determined that there was a very small but measurable offset in the measurement from the datalogger, that would normally not matter with a 1-2V in 600 error but in this situation it was crucial. So we deemed the team to have their points and position reinstated! We were delighted with the professionalism and good nature of the team during the process and they were absolutely over the moon to have their points back. On Sunday evening after packing up and seeing through the closing ceremony I did a ceremonial t-shirt swap with their head of HV systems. I hope he is enjoying his bright green SCRUTINEER t-shirt. Maybe it’s knocking round their lab space as an oily rag by now.

What does the future of FS look like and how do you hope to be a part of it?

AS: The future of FS is extremely exciting. We are now at 50-50 for EV and IC entries. As a competition we aim to follow the global shift in automotive systems from IC to EV and encourage and support the rapid adoption of autonomous systems. The bottom line is FS is getting more and more relevant for people with Computer Science and Electrical and Electronics backgrounds like mine. The UK competition is unique in also allowing an Alternative Powertrain category, so if it’s novel, and safe, it’s worth proposing to see if it’s accepted. I love an IC engine entry, nothing beats the sound and visceral feeling of a screaming CBR 600 engine up at 13000 RPM, but when we watch a truly sorted EV entry on track it’s still astonishing what can be achieved. I can’t wait for Silverstone in July 2022!


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