Revving Up Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition

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After watching an unmanned aerial vehicle competition vehicle competition at Georgia Tech in the 1990s, Gerald Lane thought there should be something similar in his neck of the woods. These vehicles may not have been about speed, with top speeds only in the single digits, but they were about ingenuity. And Lane would know, working at the time for the Robotics and Advanced Vehicles Technologies area of the U.S. Army.

Today, Lane currently co-chairs the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition that he co-founded at Oakland University in Michigan, and it will be 25 years old this year. The competition runs from June 1 to 4 at the school and gives both undergraduate and graduate students a chance to put their knowledge and team skills to the test.

With spec limits including a maximum height of six feet, many of the ground vehicles have included a pole extending from their tops, holding a camera or radar instrumentation. After all, you cannot maneuver the vehicle on your own in this competition, so some type of sensor is usually to be successful. To meet the definition of a ground vehicle for this competition, the vehicle must be moving with direct mechanical contact on the ground. It also must be 3 to7 feet long, have a minimum speed 1 mph and maximum 5 mph, and carry a 20-lb payload.

“It’s very different than some university competitions involving vehicles,” says Lane, who received his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Detroit.  “You have them at only a few miles per hour, but it’s a great opportunity to focus on quality instead of speed.”

“Another highlight of the event is the amount of companies that show up looking for job candidates. “Many jobs have been offered. Last year we had companies like Continental, which focuses on automotive parts,” he says. The funny part is companies complain sometimes that the students don’t talk to them. They’re so taken with the event that they almost have to be reminded a job could come out of this.”

Most vehicles, however, don’t make it to the finish line. In last year’s Auto-Nav Challenge part of the competition, only two vehicles went the full distance of 640 feet, making their way past a difficult course that included a variety of barriers. Only three vehicles even made it 100 feet.

“It’s a blast to watch the competitors themselves because they don’t know what will happen either,” he says. “Sometimes victory is how far you can go, rather than if you can finish at all.”

International competitors are also welcome, with a team from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay taking home the Grand Award as top team last year, and a team from Hosei University, Tokyo, coming in as runner-up. The other twenty-plus competitors included Georgia Tech and the University of Cincinnati.

The hope, beyond the recognition and cash prizes that run up to $3,000 depending on the, is that the competition will provide strong preparation for when students enter the workforce. That is why the competition includes a written section and an oral section.

”The written report and the oral presentation are chances for students to recreate some of what they’ll be dealing with when they’re a part of an industry,” Lane says. “We want this to be a successful machine but also a good experience that translates into the real world. Be comfortable with success and even with failure, but just find confidence.”

Eric Butterman is an independent writer.
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