Posts Tagged: UTIAS

U of T Engineering to compete in SAE AutoDrive Challenge™ II

U of T's Zeus self-driving electric car

Zeus, a self-driving electric car created by a team of students from U of T Engineering, dominated the first series of the intercollegiate Autodrive Challenge. Now, the team is preparing to compete in the SAE Autodrive Challenge II. (Photo: Chude Qian)

 

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.”

 

This story originally appeared in the U of T Engineering News.


‘My dream job’: How a PEY Co-op student is helping develop a new generation of autonomous space robots

Erin Richardson at MDA

PEY Co-op student Erin Richardson (Year 3 EngSci) is spending 16 months at Canadian space engineering firm MDA, where she is working on a new generation of autonomous robots for the forthcoming Lunar Gateway space station. (Photo: MDA)

 

By Tyler Irving

Erin Richardson (Year 3 EngSci) was in Grade 9 when she decided she wanted to be an astronaut.

“We had a science unit on outer space, and I remember being completely fascinated by the vast scale of it all,” she says. “Thinking about how big the universe is, and how we’re just a tiny speck on a tiny planet, I knew I wanted to be part of exploring it.”

Richardson started following Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield on social media and watching videos of his daily life on the International Space Station. She also started reading about aerospace and doing everything she could to break into the industry, including getting her Student Pilot Permit.

It was in a Forbes article about women in STEM that she first read the name of Kristen Facciol (EngSci 0T9).

A U of T Engineering alumna, Facciol had worked as a systems engineer at Canadian space engineering firm MDA before moving on to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). When Richardson first learned about her, Facciol was an Engineering Support Lead, providing real-time flight support during on-orbit operations and teaching courses to introduce astronauts and flight controllers to the ISS robotic systems. Today, Facciol is a Flight Controller for CSA/NASA.

“I found her contact information and reached out to her,” says Richardson. “She’s been an amazing mentor to me over the last five years. We’re still close friends, and she’s really helped influence my career path.”

With Facciol’s encouragement, Richardson applied to U of T’s Engineering Science program, eventually choosing the aerospace major. After her first year, she landed a summer research position in the lab of Professor Jonathan Kelly (UTIAS), working on simulation tools for a robotic mobile manipulator platform.

“Working in Kelly’s lab piqued my interest in robotics as they could be applied in space,” she says. “Researching collaborative manipulation in dynamic environments will push the boundaries of human spaceflight – during spacewalks, astronauts work right alongside  robots all the time.”

After her second year, Richardson travelled to Tasmania for a research placement facilitated by EngSci’s ESROP Global program. Working with researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s national science agency, she created tools to analyze data collected during scientific mooring deployments, which help us learn more about our oceans over long periods of time. This work informs the design of next-generation mooring systems which, like space systems, must survive harsh and constrained environments.

Richardson was sitting in a second-year lecture when she heard the news that Canada had committed to NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, a brand-new international space station set to be constructed between 2023 and 2026. Unlike the ISS, which currently orbits Earth, the Lunar Gateway will orbit the moon and will serve both as a waypoint for future crewed missions to the lunar surface and as preparation for missions to even more distant worlds, such as Mars.

Energized, Richardson searched for a way to get involved. Her opportunity came in the fall of 2019, when she saw a posting on MDA’s job board. She immediately applied through U of T Engineering’s Professional Experience Year Co-op program, which enables undergraduate students to spend up to 16 months working for leading firms worldwide before returning to finish their degree programs.

Richardson started her placement in May 2020, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. She and her employer quickly adapted.

“I was working from home through the summer, but for my latest project I was able to go onsite to operate this robotic arm,” she says.

The robotic arm in question is a model of Dextre, a versatile robot that maintains the International Space Station. Richardson used it as a prototype part for the Canadarm3, which will be installed on Lunar Gateway.

Because the Lunar Gateway will be so far from Earth, Canadarm3 will be designed to be autonomous, able to execute certain tasks without supervision from a remote control station. Part of Richardson’s job is to create the dataset that will eventually be used to train the artificial intelligence algorithms that will make this possible.

In MDA’s DREAMR lab, Richardson guided the robotic arm through a series of movements and scenarios, with a suite of video cameras tracking its every move. She then tagged each series of images with metadata that will teach the robot whether the movements it saw were desirable ones to emulate, or dangerous ones to avoid.

“We had to capture different lighting conditions and obstacles of various sizes and colours,” she says. “My colleagues pointed out to me that because it’s me deciding which scenarios count as collisions and which ones don’t, the AI that we eventually create will be a reflection of my own brain.”

Apart from the opportunity to contribute to the next generation of space robots, Richardson says she’s enjoyed the chance to apply what she’s learned in her classes, as well as the professional connections she’s made.

“It’s my dream job,” she says. “I use what I learned in engineering design courses every day. I’m treated as a full engineer and a member of the team. The people I work with are extremely supportive and they talk to me about my dreams and goals. I love being surrounded by a team of talented and motivated people, all so passionate about what they do and about advancing space exploration. It’s an awesome opportunity for any student.”

This article was originally published in the U of T Engineering News.


Chair of EngSci’s robotics engineering major elected as IEEE Fellow

Professor Tim Barfoot

Professor Tim Barfoot (UTIAS), seen here at the launch of the Robotics Institute, held in May 2019, has been elected a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE). (Photo: Liz Do)

EngSci alumnus Professor Tim Barfoot (UTIAS) has been elected a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Robotics and Automation Society.

Professor Barfoot serves as chair of EngSci’s robotics engineering major, and is an EngSci graduate from the class of 9T7.

Learn about his outstanding contributions to mobile robot navigation in the U of T Engineering News.


EngSci students take flight in microgravity to unravel physics mystery

Update Aug 1, 2017: Check out the team’s Twitter feed feed for photos and videos from their flight.

Team AVAIL — left to right, Caulan Rupke (Year 4 EngSci), Neell Young (EngSci 1T4 + PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate), Andrew Ilersich and Michael Lawee (both Year 4 EngSci) — has designed a physics experiment that will be carried out in simulated microgravity. Their results could accelerate the use of 3D printers to address key challenges for long-term space missions.

Not many of us get to experience what it’s like to float in space. This week several of our students will get to experience the next best thing — a flight on a microgravity aircraft where they will try to unravel a complex physics process.

Collectively known as Team AVAIL (Analyzing Viscosity and Inertia in Liquids), Neell Young (EngSci 1T4 + PEY, MASc Student UTIAS), Caulan Rupke, Michael Lawee and Andrew Ilersich (all Year 4 EngSci) will conduct experiments on a phenomenon known as the “liquid rope coil” effect.

See a video of the effect and learn more about the team’s mission.

Their work will have implications for 3D printing in microgravity during long-term space missions. Here on Earth, it could also help develop 3D printing techniques for new porous materials for use in biomedical engineering.

The team is in Ottawa July 24 – 28 for a flight on the National Research Council’s Falcon 20 aircraft. Read about their mission and follow their progress on Twitter and Youtube.


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