During a weeklong challenge beginning April 30th, student teams from eight select universities will participate in the inaugural AutoDrive Challenge™, organized by SAE International and General Motors. Hosted at GM’s Desert Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona, teams will demonstrate their advancements over the last year in transforming a Chevrolet Bolt EV into a vehicle with self-driving capabilities. In this, the competition’s first year, the focus has been on developing a system capable of object detection and avoidance. By the end of the Challenge’s third and final year, teams will be striving to accomplish Level 4 of SAE International’s Levels of Driving Automation.
AutoDrive teams have been working tirelessly in preparation for the event in Arizona and they are eager to demonstrate their vehicle’s capabilities. “Our team is excited to show off what we have and to see what other teams have accomplished,” said William Melek, faculty advisor of the University of Waterloo team, WATonomous. “We are also looking forward to meeting all of the competition sponsors in person. What they have done for us — it’s hard to believe how lucky we are to have this type of experience because of the generous sponsorship for this competition. We can’t wait to show them what we’ve been able to do with the help of their sponsorship!”
Velodyne LiDAR, Inc., a key competition supplier, provided teams VLP-16 ‘Puck’ sensors, which are essential to the achievement of these automated driving milestones. With low power consumption and a compact size that allows the sensor to be integrated on vehicles easily, the VLP-16 provides a 360-degree, 3-D view of its surroundings at nearly the speed of light. The sensor spins sixteen lasers to rapidly gather millions of data points from the surrounding roadway and environment, including precise measurements of objects’ distance from the vehicle. Since entering production, more than 10,000 units of the VLP-16 have been shipped to customers, primarily for automotive applications. Marta Hall, President of Velodyne LiDAR is proud to support university autonomous programs and the AutoDrive project, stating, “We are excited to donate LiDAR Pucks to the next generation of innovators. We want the technology to be explored and used in innovative ways for safer transportation.”
Velodyne will be engaged in a variety of activities while in Arizona, including interfacing with teams as Social Responsibility and Concept Design judges. Company representatives will be on site throughout the event to provide teams with real-time feedback and assistance, to ensure that they are able to perform at their maximum level. Furthermore, Velodyne will host a booth for event participants to visit, complete with a Virtual Reality experience, a technical expert, and live demo of the new VLS-128 to provide attendees deeper knowledge of Velodyne’s cutting-edge product line. Velodyne will be hosting a student team supplier information session as well as welcoming Mircea Gradu, Chief Quality Officer and SAE President, to speak at a luncheon presentation for all event attendees.
Building a self-driving car is certainly not an easy task, but it can be very rewarding, according to Melek. “Our team spent many tireless, dedicated hours working towards integrating all parts of the vehicle together, from perceiving the environment to having the vehicle generate and follow a safe path,” he explained. “Until recently, we have lived our lives in the driver’s seat. However, throughout the past year we have been able to witness our vehicle move forwards, steer, brake, and transmission shift on its own, which I must say is quite the experience!”