Next-Generation Engineers Tackle the Future of Autonomous Driving
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on January 08, 2019 |
Students from eight universities participate in the three-year AutoDrive Challenge. (Image courtesy of Velodyne LiDAR.)
Students from eight universities participate in the three-year AutoDrive Challenge. (Image courtesy of Velodyne LiDAR.)

Future innovations often require fresh minds at the helm. The three-year AutoDrive Challenge, now entering its second year, aims to put the future of fully autonomous passenger vehicles into the hands of engineering students.

Organized by General Motors and SAE International, the competition comprises a team of students from eight universities that were selected in April 2017. The team’s goal by year three is to have developed an autonomous vehicle that can navigate an urban driving course and meet SAE standards.

Velodyne Lidar, which has been a major sponsor of the challenge, has provided core technology needed for autonomous vehicles, as well as engineering support for the teams.

“It is a privilege to be a part of the AutoDrive Challenge and engage with these students as they work with cutting-edge technology to tackle one of the top engineering challenges of today,” said Marta Hall, Velodyne LiDAR president and chief business development officer. “Everyone at Velodyne who interacts with the competition’s participants walks away impressed. These up-and-coming engineers inspire confidence that our future is in good hands.”

Velodyne recently welcomed two participants to share their thoughts on the competition and what fueled their passion for engineering.

Karreem Hogan, who is working on his PhD in electrical engineering at North Carolina A&T State University, is a participant in the AutoDrive Challenge. . (Image courtesy of Velodyne LiDAR.)
Karreem Hogan, who is working on his PhD in electrical engineering at North Carolina A&T State University, is a participant in the AutoDrive Challenge. (Image courtesy of Velodyne LiDAR.)

“Curiosity drives me to want to know how things work so I can figure out how to make them better,” said Karreem Hogan, co-captain of the North Carolina A&T State University team. “With autonomous driving, how they work includes challenges from the technical implementation, the social impact, and the new laws and regulations needed to share the road with humans. Understanding these challenges will enable engineers to design better autonomous vehicles.”

Hogan gained experience working in the technology industry before returning to school to finish a second master’s degree and pursue his doctorate. His experience in the workforce and as a student has given him a unique perspective on the competition.

“This type of project demonstrates how society and companies can take advantage of the intellectual assets we have in students to solve our problems,” he said. “The intellectual energy we are bringing to this program is outstanding. Our mission is to put this technology in the hands of an average family.”

Robert Adragna, left, and a teammate from the University of Toronto participate in the AutoDrive Challenge. (Image courtesy of Velodyne LiDAR.)
Robert Adragna, left, and a teammate from the University of Toronto participate in the AutoDrive Challenge. (Image courtesy of Velodyne LiDAR.)

For Robert Adragna, who attends the University of Toronto—the team that won the overall contest in the competition’s first year—his interest in autonomous vehicle technology stemmed from a passion for theoretical physics and environmental sustainability.

“Autonomous cars offer a perfect mix for me,” he said. “There’s the opportunity to be among the founding people involved in building a new industry and the need to engage with communities and regulators to ensure that its potential for improving the environment and safety is realized.”

Adragna serves as his team’s director of social responsibility, which is a vital element of the competition. In fact, Velodyne recently sponsored the World Safety Summit on Autonomous Technology, an event that aimed to bring together businesses, governments, communities, leaders and citizens to enhance safety with regard to the implementation of autonomous technology.

The second year of the competition will be held May 29 to June 5 at the Mcity Test Facility, a one-of-a-kind urban test facility at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Interested in more autonomous vehicle innovations? Check out Could a Shrimp Improve the Vision of Self-Driving Cars? and Space Drive Is a Game-Changer for Autonomous Vehicles.


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