California State University, Northridge senior mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering students’ hard work paid off last month, when not one but two of their robots took two of the top three spots at an international competition.
The Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition is held annually at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. CSUN’s Robot Red Raven 2.0–which has been compared to the Star Wars R2D2–took first place, and CSUN’s other robot, LINJA, earned third place in the design competition.
“A respectable start to a hopefully winning robot again next year,” said team captain Alex Anikstein, who graduated in May from the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
The annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition allows college students to work on a multidisciplinary, theory-based, hands-on, team-implemented, outcome-based project. It encompasses the very latest technologies impacting industrial development and taps subjects of high interest to students. The goal of the IGVC is to design a fully autonomous, unmanned ground robotic vehicle that can navigate a course with obstacles and perform unmanned tasks. The competition is divided into four categories: autonomy, navigation, joint architecture for unmanned systems and design.
“Our senior design project requires the students to work closely as an team. This experience is a lot like the setting in industry, this way they will have the experience they need outside of school,” said the project’s faculty adviser and Cal State Northridge mechanical engineering professor C.T. Lin.
“Their achievement at the competition is an indication that they have learned well and done right throughout this year-long engineering design experience. It also shows that our engineering program at CSUN offers a good curriculum and hands-on experience,” said Lin.
During the competition, the robotic vehicle must avoid obstacles while staying within the boundaries of a track throughout the entire course. This year’s IGVC saw a challenge change. Teams had to avoid obstacles during a 275-footstretch before entering “no man’s land,” a massive open space where robots were guided purely by waypoint and required to visit six locations and enter another 275-foot lane to the end of the track.
Despite the change in rules, which many judges thought would be insurmountable for the college teams, Cal State Northridge completed nearly the entire course, finding all six waypoints and navigating within feet away from the end of the course.
Picking up 100 feet for each of the waypoints Red Raven 2.0 encountered, the team totaled 1,210 feet, placing it nearly 200 feet ahead of it second-place finisher the U.S. Naval Academy.
Red Raven 2.0’s ability to navigate on its own is the combination of a laser range finder located a foot from the ground, a camera located at the top of the robot and algorithmic software within the robot.
The applications of this technology are numerous in the development of self-driving cars, Lin said.
“The self-driving cars adopting the autonomous technology developed for these robots has made their debut recently,” he said. A special license had been issued by the state of Nevada to those cars to run on the public roads in the state. In a few years, it is expected that many more of the self-driving cars will be available commercially. “Our students are prepared to be the elite engineering workforce for this cutting-edge industry.”