By Tyler Irving
For the last three years, U of T Engineering has been leading the pack in the Autodrive Challenge, an intercollegiate competition to create a self-driving electric car. Now, they’re gearing up for the next round.
“We’ll have a new car, we’ll face new teams, and we’ll need to meet new challenges, probably more sophisticated ones,” says Jingxing “Joe” Qian (EngSci 1T8 + PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate), Team Lead for aUToronto, U of T’s self-driving car team. “But I think we’re well prepared.”
The general concept for SAE AutoDrive Challenge™ II, which is sponsored by SAE International and General Motors, will be similar to the original. Teams will receive an electric vehicle – the team’s award-winning entry in the first round was a Chevrolet Bolt that they named “Zeus” – along with sensors and certain software packages.
Their task is to integrate these components and enable the car to meet certain standards, such as recognizing and obeying stop signs or arriving at a sequence of pre-determined address points.
The aUToronto team — which has more than 60 members, including Professors Tim Barfoot, Angela Schoellig and Steven Waslander (all UTIAS) as faculty supervisors and Keenan Burnett (EngSci 1T6+PEY, UTIAS PhD candidate) as a graduate advisor — has a track record of success. Zeus has placed first in all of the yearly meets held so far: the 2018 meet in Yuma, Ariz., the 2019 meet in Ann Arbour, Mich., and a virtual competition held last fall.
There is a fourth meet currently scheduled for June 2021. The SAE AutoDrive Challenge™ II will begin in fall 2021.
For more than a year now, most of the work on Zeus has been done remotely. Sub-teams such as perception, control and simulation coordinate their work using a variety of tools, meeting all together weekly to update each other on progress.
A small task force takes turns physically visiting the vehicle, which is housed at the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies, near Downsview Airport.
“It’s been a challenging time to work on this project,” says Qian. “Deliverables such as demonstration videos have become really important. They help our teams see that the changes they make have an impact on how the car behaves in a real-world environment.”
The other institutions competing in SAE AutoDrive Challenge II include Kettering University, Michigan Tech, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State, Penn State, Queen’s University, Texas A & M, Ohio State, the University of Wisconsin and Virginia Tech. Qian is optimistic about aUToronto’s chances.
“I’m very proud of all the effort the team, and the university, have put into this project over the past few years,” says Qian. “I think we deserve to enter the second round, and I’m really excited to get started.”