U team competed in robot competition

Jamie VanGeest

Four mechanical engineering students built an intelligent ground vehicle for an international competition in Michigan.

Shawn Brovold, Nathan Carlson, Greg Rupp and Eric Li have been working on their intelligent ground vehicle, named “G2,” since last year in preparation for this competition.

“Collectively as a team we put in 2,500 hours on G2,” Brovold said.

The University’s team from 2002 described an intelligent ground vehicle as an autonomous robot programmed to maneuver through obstacle courses.

Brovold said the vehicle makes decisions about the best path to take to its destination based on external information gathered by its sensors. The vehicle operates on its own without being controlled by an operator.

The last time the University qualified for the competition was in 2001, with its intelligent ground vehicle named “Gopher.”

This year’s vehicle was built with the original frame from Gopher. They also kept the laser, vision and GPS sensors from the previous vehicle.

Other than these original elements, this year’s vehicle was rebuilt from the ground up. New elements on the vehicle include a digital compass, new software and thinner snow-thrower tires, which the team hoped would improve the vehicle’s traction.

The competition took place in Traverse City, Mich., with 37 teams participating. The teams were from all over the United States, and teams from countries such as Japan and France also competed.

G2 went through two different events at the competition. The first event was the autonomous vehicle challenge. G2 had to use its laser sensor and camera to detect lane boundaries and try to stay within them. G2 also had to use its sensors to avoid different obstacles.

The second event was the navigation challenge. In this event, G2 used its differential GPS sensor to drive through a series of mapped coordinates.

While trying to hit these coordinates, G2 also had to avoid different obstacles such as ramps, buckets and sawhorses.

Every year, the course has a new obstacle the team doesn’t know about beforehand. This year, it had fences around the GPS coordinates that G2 had to drive to.

Only the top 20 teams at the competition get to compete in the main challenge.

“Previous teams from the ‘U of M’ didn’t even qualify, so just qualifying was a big step,” Brovold said.

The team made it past the first round, and Brovold said he thinks they placed in the top 10.

Team members first heard about the contest when their professor and team adviser Max Donath mentioned it in one of his classes.

“I never told them when they were going down the right path, but I told them when they were going down the wrong one,” said Donath, who is also the director of the University’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute.

Brovold said he estimates that the overall retail cost of the vehicle is $27,000. The team spent approximately $6,000 on G2.

National Instruments donated the team’s LabVIEW software, which is worth $5,000. The team was also sponsored financially by the Institute of Technology.

The Department of Defense, which has a strong interest in unmanned vehicles, sponsored the event, Brovold said.

If a team tries for the competition next year, Brovold said he would like to see the new team start from scratch rather than trying to improve upon G2.