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IGVC inspires next-gen designers of autonomous vehicles

Story by Christopher Estrada, Public Affairs Specialist DEVCOM

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Photo: © Christopher Estrada | DVIDS | DoD

Photo: © Christopher Estrada | DVIDS | DoD

The next generation of ground vehicle engineers, hard at work researching solutions to the challenges posed by autonomous vehicles, competed their products at Oakland University.

The 30th Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC) is an annual event where collegiate robotics teams compete in a variety of unmanned mobility obstacles. In 2023, 41 teams from around the world participated in several categories related to vehicle autonomy and design.

In the three decades the U.S. Army DEVCOM Ground Vehicle Systems Center has been involved with IGVC, the event has gone through myriad criteria adjustments and new challenges to accurately simulate the demands of industry.

Photo: © Christopher Estrada | DVIDS | DoD

Photo: © Christopher Estrada | DVIDS | DoD

Today, the IGVC is divided into three main categories: Self Drive, AutoNav and a design competition. Self Drive focuses on autonomous street driving capabilities, testing on street legal vehicles, while AutoNav sees smaller vehicles built from the ground-up navigate an obstacle course using GPS coordinates while fully autonomous.

Bernard Theisen, GVSC's Division Chief for Ground Vehicle Robotics, who has been involved with the IGVC since 2002, notes how many participating teams involve more than just engineering students, offering opportunities to attract and develop students in business and marketing as well.

'This real-world activity in product development, from design to build to integration to test, prepares many types of university students to easily integrate into any product team,' Theisen said.

As the reliability of new technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence has improved, they are being incorporated into vehicle designs and play a role in evaluation criteria, Theisen added.

For the four-day weekend, teams, local, from out of state, and from other countries, collaborate and tweak their vehicle designs, with several rounds of qualifications and hours spent optimizing their autonomous systems.

The team from the University of Oklahoma, which has been participating at IGVC for the last three years, used designs and concepts from previous years' iterations, and after applying lessons learned from last year's competition, rebuilt their vehicle and navigated through the AutoNav course with little issue.

More than just the score, many students agreed that most of the fun comes from watching other teams navigate the challenges.

'It's awesome seeing everyone out here,' said University of Oklahoma student Tony Chappell. 'Seeing everybody's approach to the problem and how they solve it in different ways… people have really interesting solutions.'

Photo: © Christopher Estrada | DVIDS | DoD

Photo: © Christopher Estrada | DVIDS | DoD

Lawrence Technological University's Brendan Preiss, the programmer for many of the navigation techniques on LTU's AutoNav vehicle, was quick to identify where the team could make improvements, noting their approach to lane-following through the course.

'What I did now, I probably wouldn't do if I went back and tried it again,' he said.

Such experiences leave students with a better understanding of the real-time demands for intelligent mobility development expected within the industry following their graduation.

Theisen said IGVC serves as a cornerstone to developing science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills.

'STEM is so important to the future of our nation and keeping America a leader in this area is paramount,' said Theisen. 'IGVC is an amazing tool to excite our next generation of engineers and scientists that will lead our nation into the future, from saving lives on the battlefield to helping the elderly have increased mobility through robotics and autonomy.'

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