Michigan Tech Students and faculty conduct autonomous vehicle testing at Road America in preparation for April AutoDrive Challenge

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The Kohler Villager took a ride in a self-driving vehicle yesterday at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

The vehicle was brought there for testing by Michigan Technological University Robotics Systems Enterprise (RSE) AutoDrive Challenge Team. The team of engineering students and faculty were readying the car for the AutoDrive challenge, a collegiate design competition sponsored by SAE International and GM. The competition takes place in April in Yuma, Arizona.

Wisconsin is one of only 10 states that received federal approval in 2017 to serve as testing grounds for self-driving cars. Early development and private testing takes place at a closed course at the MGA research facility in Burlington, Wisconsin. The Road America race track and access roads allow for more public testing and demonstrations. The UW-Madison and Epic campuses in Madison offer semi-open course testing in a controlled environment, and final testing advances to City of Madison roads and state highways.

John Ewert, Road America’s Communications Director said Road America offers the perfect testing grounds for the self-driving vehicles with its many access roads, large paved spaces, and elevation changes. He said Road America is very open to testing of new technology in the auto industry. Ewert is a resident of Kohler who also serves on the Kohler Village Board and volunteer fire department.

For the AutoDrive Challenge, student teams must convert a Chevrolet Bolt EV into an SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicle. In the first year, the team’s autonomous vehicles must be able to stop at course markings while staying within the lane, follow a curved road while staying within lane markings, and traverse a multi-lane road containing cones and other obstacles.

The Prometheus Borealis team is comprised of about 50 students and three faculty advisors. Jeremy Bos, an assistant professor of electrical engineering accompanied five Michigan Tech students to Road America for four days of testing. The five students included Derek Chopp, who majored in electrical engineering and is pursuing a PhD in computer science; Nate Spike, a mechanical engineering major; Akhil Kurup, an electrical and computer engineering major, and Joe Rice, who is pursuing a PhD in computer science.

The testing at Road America specifically focused on ride quality (The vehicle must stay within acceleration/jerk limits); time (how long the vehicle takes to complete any/all dynamic challenges); the car’s speed (for year one, the car must go 25 mph); vehicle operation, (which only trained safety drivers can perform); and effectiveness of the E-stop (emergency stop switch). The team said it was happy with the results and looks forward to the challenge in Arizona in April.

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