Between April 30th and May 5th, eight university teams participated in the AutoDrive Challenge sponsored by General Motors and SAE International. Hosted at General Motors’ Desert Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona, the week’s events represented the culmination of teams’ efforts over the first year of what will be a three-year project to turn a Chevrolet Bolt EV into a self-driving car.
The University of Toronto team, led by faculty advisor Angela Schoellig, won the overall competition in year one of the Challenge. Teams from Texas A&M and Virginia Tech finished second and third overall, respectively. The other teams competing included Waterloo University, Michigan State University, Michigan Tech University, Kettering University, and North Carolina A&T State University.
The first day of competition included static events, during which teams were judged on their Concept Designs and presentations of the Social Responsibility considerations related to the advent of self-driving vehicles. As a key supplier for the event, Velodyne LiDAR sent company representatives to gather feedback from student teams, not only about the crucial role LiDAR technology has in achieving autonomy, but on the continued need for public outreach and education about the technological foundations and societal impacts of self-driving vehicles.
Student participants anticipated far-ranging benefits of autonomous vehicles (AVs). “I think AVs will give us back some of that time we have lost – human stuff, togetherness, time with families,” commented Karreem Hogan of North Carolina A&T State University. Robert Adragna from the University of Toronto stated, “[In Toronto] we’re dealing with a lot of urban sprawl challenges, and I know many people who literally spend three hours a day – ninety minutes into the city and ninety minutes out – just wasting so much time. And the time could be spent doing so many other things that are integral to ensuring that people have a high quality of life.”
On subsequent days, teams brought their vehicles out of the garage to engage in dynamic challenges on the proving ground’s tracks. Objectives in these events included having vehicles autonomously detect and respond to stop signs, steer through a winding course, and change lanes to avoid objects in the roadway. The LiDAR sensors supplied by Velodyne LiDAR played the foundational role in allowing teams to perform these tasks. “The role of LiDAR is to bring your environment to life. To see in 3D,” Hogan stated. “Camera has a role, but LiDAR gives us that definitive three-dimensional view of everything that’s around us.” Adragna added, “You can’t really match the accuracy that you get from a sensor like this, and in my opinion, you need this to make sure that all the social benefits of self-driving cars can actually (happen).”