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Detroit Mercy engineering program to build on successes for next time

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June 01, 2017
The IGVC team tests SIRR Lancebot earlier this week

Students in University of Detroit Mercy’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department will show off their self-driving vehicle this weekend at the annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC) held in Rochester, Mich., thanks in large part to two gifts to the University.

NovAtel Inc. Safety Critical Systems group donated a state-of-the-art high-precision Global Positioning System, which means students can use safe-positioning technologies required for fully and semi-autonomous automobiles. Last year, a grant from the DENSO North America Foundation helped the department develop hands-on projects to ensure students are up-to-date on the technology needed for advanced vehicle development.

NovAtel manufactures high precision Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) receivers, antennas and subsystems, and is considered one of the world’s leading experts on sensor integration. The company has been a strong supporter of Detroit Mercy’s student-led robotic system design and competition efforts over the years.

“This year’s donation demonstrates NovAtel’s continuing commitment to Detroit Mercy programs and student projects that promote and enhance the acquisition of skills needed for employment and research in today’s automotive industry,” said Dr. Mark Paulik, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Director of the Robotics and Mechatronic Systems Engineering Program.

This year, students have designed a completely new mobile robotic vehicle for the IGVC.  The competition incorporates events that require students to simultaneously address multiple issues relevant to self-driving vehicles including vision, localization, obstacle identification and vehicle-to-vehicle communications. The requirements are planned so students learn how to design sensing and control systems that permit cars to drive themselves while using automatic crash- and pedestrian-safety technologies. The project faculty supervisors are Paulik and Utayba Mohammad of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.

The IGVC competition, now in its 25th year, tasks student engineering teams with creating a robot that can autonomously navigate a course on a grass field using specific GPS points.

Detroit Mercy’s team of about 10 students have devoted more than 1,200 hours to create SIRR Lancebot on a Segway RMP 220 chassis using NovAtel’s donated GPS system, a three-dimensional camera, laser scanner and other technology used in industry today.

Participation in the project is part of the capstone design project in the Electrical and Computer Engineering program. All seniors in the program must participate, but because the IVGC competition takes place after graduation, many have moved on to full-time employment and are unable to attend the event or participate in the final push to prepare the robot.

Lancebot“Our robot is self-balancing, because we built it on a Segway chassis, which no one in the competition has done before,” said team member Varkey Periyappurathu.

Jason Hannawa, who is also on the team, said building the robot from scratch this year on a completely different chassis with brand new sensors and other equipment has involved much more time learning about the components, which has been both exciting and challenging.

The competition has three elements:

  • Navigation, or how well it performs on the course
  • Design, or how well the entire robot is created; this part includes a written and oral presentation to a team of judges
  • JAUS, which stands for Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems, an international standard for protocols that means the robot could be controlled by a third party

 Because of the immense challenge of creating this vehicle in only a year’s time, the team decided against participating in the JAUS portion, but believes the robot will make its mark in the other two categories.

Detroit Mercy has a strong track record in the competition, participating 14 times and, remarkably, taking first place three years running from 2008-10. Typically, some 40 to 50 schools participate in the international competition.

“The IGVC is a central part of the program,” Paulik said. “It helps students understand the wide range of technical elements associated with the autonomous-vehicle field, and how to work effectively as a team. The competition does a great job of preparing our students for jobs in the automotive and robotics industries.”

Also important, Paulik said, is that participation in this event provides a benchmark for the students to compare their skills with peers from other colleges and universities.

“They discover they have the kind of skills and experiences that are needed in the industry now,” he said.

There are cash awards at this competition, which Paulik said are funneled back into the program for future competitions.

Update: Paulik and the students knew they faced a daunting task at the IGVC event this year.

“Building a vehicle like this from scratch in one year is a pretty big challenge,” Paulik said before the event.

In the last few weeks before the competition, students found themselves having to address hardware and software failures, which took time and focus away from working on how to tackle the competition events.

On the positive side, Paulik said, the SIRR Lancebot made a big splash in the design category and received a great deal of attention due to its innovations, including a balancing design, superior maneuverability, gimbal-mounted vision system and 3-D laser scanning for obstacle identification.

Periyappurathu ’17 and Hannawa ’17 prepare SIRR Lancebot Varkey Periyappurathu ’17 and Jason Hannawa ’17 prepare SIRR Lancebot for Saturday’s Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition in Rochester, Mich.
The IGVC team tests SIRR Lancebot earlier this week The IGVC team tests SIRR Lancebot earlier this week
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