Kettering University students use new skills, teamwork to create autonomous vehicle technology

Eight students -- broken into two groups -- for their Computer Engineering senior design projects were tasked with designing a working autonomous vehicle using an RC car.

A group of Kettering University students can now say they’ve created something many students can’t claim -- they have made an autonomous vehicle.

Eight students -- broken into two groups -- for their Computer Engineering senior design projects were tasked with designing a working autonomous vehicle using an RC car.

“It’s one of those projects that of course you want to work on but until someone gives you a client or a budget, it’s a fictitious, engineering bucket list item,” said Jonathan Zeiders ‘16. “My first reaction to the project was ‘Wow, this is going to be fun.’ Immediately followed by, ‘This is going to be a lot of work.’”

But it was worth it. The cars navigated a track on the floor, stopped before hitting a roadblock or stopped at a “red light.”

At the beginning of the term Dr. Girma Tewolde, Electrical and  Computer Engineering faculty member, told the class that he was the customer and handed them a list of requirements about the features needed. The autonomous vehicle needed features such as lane following, obstacle avoidance, adaptive cruise control, traffic signal recognition, video streaming and remote control capability from a smartphone.

Autonomous Vehicle

Zeiders was joined by Natalie Eliachevsky ‘16, Alex VanTol ‘16 and Alexander Nelson ‘16 on his team. Their team chose a yellow and black sports car with a webcam positioned above the car to help navigate.

The other team -- consisting of Ryan Betts ‘16, Heather Kassin ‘16, Tyler McCardelli ‘16 and Andrew Astorino ‘16 -- chose a black, green and white monster truck with the a webcam also hoisted above the vehicle.

The teams had to buy their equipment, work on the app controller, motor and sensor control, vision detection, programming and the main controller and server. The cars needed to navigate on their own following a lane taped out on the floor and be able to stop when commanded and to avoid collision.

And even if it was a bumpy road to get there, the students’ projects were functioning at the end of the 11-week project.

“My first reaction to the project was, ‘Well, this is going to be harder than we think,’” McCardell said. “But having a working autonomous vehicle is the best part of the project. Watching it move around the track shows that our hard work paid off.”

The students learned to collaborate, delegate responsibilities, manage time, work as a team and make mistakes -- something very important in the world of engineering and problem-solving.

Nelson, an Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering double major, said those lessons were big for him. Not being a Computer Science or Computer Engineering major, he walked away with a lot of valuable skills that he can carry with him through his career.

“When you are working on something new it’s a lot of trial and error. I learned about working as a team, being under leadership and that reminds me of the job place,” Nelson said, adding that it was exciting to be part of the group. “I was wowed when the vehicle moved on its own. I was amazed. I was honored to be a part of the project.”

Tewolde said he was impressed by the end-products the students were able to deliver.

“It turned out to be a great learning experience for the students in the field of autonomous vehicles. They managed well their limited budget, survived through many obstacles, learned from their failures and in the end it was very satisfying to see them so excited about their accomplishments,” Tewolde said.

McCardell said having opportunities like this is something that sets Kettering apart from other schools. His experience at the university allowed him to learn more than he ever thought he would in college. He never thought he would build an autonomous vehicle and it proved to him that he could put his knowledge toward a new project if he puts his mind to it.

“I never realize how much I actually know until I start a project. And it helps add to my knowledge of problem solving and programming,” McCardell said. “Every new challenge adds new tools and skills for my career. This was a very powerful capstone project. At the end of a the day an autonomous vehicle just sounds impressive.”