Self-driving car competition gives students hands-on experience

The autonomous driving industry is growing quickly. McKinsey & Company expects cars to be operating within virtual geographic boundaries by 2022 and full adoption as early as 2030. To help overcome the hurdles in designing an autonomous vehicle, automotive companies are tapping into a range of partners, from engineers to students. This trend gives automotive engineering students an opportunity to develop hands-on skills and experience in an emerging industry and through student competitions like AutoDrive Challenge.

From AutoDrive 2019 [Source: SAE]

The four-year student competition series has teams develop fully autonomous cars, in an environment replicating industry-standard development, including continued evolution year over year with students facing the same real-world design challenges that are puzzling automotive engineers today.

The first year of the competition focused on creating an interface for the vehicle and building in components for motor and power control. While in the second year, students were challenged with object perception and dynamic object perception to identify obstacles in the road, and in the third-year teams will program their vehicles for ride-sharing applications, including mapping and route planning efficiency.

In the completed second year of competition, students programmed their vehicles to abide by the rules of the road and avoid obstacles while navigating through a series of courses at Mcity, a self-driving car testing ground at the University of Michigan. “We coded vehicle behaviors for different scenarios such as lane change maneuvers and how to respond to traffic lights,” said Mollie Bianchi from the University of Toronto.

Working in teams that emulate real-world engineering teams, students develop a baseline for their advanced autonomous systems, and map out a design workflow identical to how industry engineers build these systems. “The competition gave me the opportunity to apply concepts I learned from my classes to real life scenarios,” Bianchi said. “We learned exclusively through the competition how to work with technologies used in industry such as calibrating and interfacing lidar, radar, and cameras.”

From AutoDrive 2019 [Source: SAE]

The teams used simulation software such as Simulink to test how their system would perform in the real-world, and through trial and error simulated different variations of their algorithms. This is the same approach professional engineers use because it is more efficient than testing on the actual vehicle and less expensive if something goes wrong.

Competitors like Bianchi, with experience developing autonomous systems with real-world engineering tools, are highly desired with the industry primed to shift toward manufacturing fully autonomous automobiles in the near future.

“In today’s auto industry it’s extremely important for students to begin developing the engineering skills that will prepare them for their future careers, especially for autonomous technology,” said Kevin Dietrich, program manager for the AutoDrive Challenge at General Motors, one of the competition’s industry sponsors. Some of Bianchi’s teammates now work at General Motors in positions they found while competing in AutoDrive, and competition sponsors have reached out to Bianchi about prospective employment as well.

From AutoDrive 2019 [Source: SAE]

The competition is readying the next generation of industry engineers and closing the labor pool’s autonomous systems skills gap. To support these goals, MathWorks, General Motors, and other companies provide hardware, software such as MATLAB and Simulink, and technical mentors who help competitors with technical challenges. “Partnering with General Motors and MathWorks to support our programs and help create elements of our challenge leads to a whole new level of participation and engagement,” says Allison Hostetler, university program manager at SAE International. Hostetler, who serves as the AutoDrive Challenge program manager, says the involvement of sponsoring companies gives students an opportunity to gain experience using real-world tools and increases their achievements at future jobs because they can start right away and are in an ideal position for early success.

“There is so much value in supplementing our classroom learning with real-world experience,” Bianchi said.

>> This article was originally published on our sister site, EE Times.

Lauren Tabolinsky is academic programs manager, MathWorks.


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