Driving With Tomorrow’s Technology

By Bob Grimson ’81
May 13, 2013

For senior Elyse Vernon, it was the chance to work on a challenging project with Dr. Jose Sanchez ’00, MSEE ’02, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. While fellow senior Tom Joyce was interested in system theory, design, and electro-mechanical systems, image processing intrigued Devon Bates and Frayne Go.

Whatever their reasons for research, the group’s payoff was the Dean’s Award for the College of Engineering and Technology at the annual Scholarship Expo.

Their yearlong project researched a Smart Autonomous Vehicle in a Scaled Urban Environment. Their scaled-down, robotic vehicle, named SAV-SUE, had to sense its surroundings and stay within the lane lines of a roadway, stop at an intersection, and make a right turn.

“Autonomous vehicle technology will likely be prevalent within the near future,” said Joyce, an electrical engineering major. “We’re already seeing self-parking, adaptive cruise control, and other advanced safety features from auto manufacturers. This technology has the capability of preventing deadly accidents and increasing traffic efficiency.”

Along with traffic safety, other advantages of autonomous vehicle technology include less driver fatigue, easier parking and better fuel efficiency. It wasn’t all smooth travel from start to finish. Hardware issues had to be tackled and individual schedules had to be adapted. Joyce said moving the vehicle from the test bench to the ground required materials the group didn’t have on hand. He learned something in the process. “It required soldering, which was a skill I did not have before,” he said.

“We had to work hard to coordinate the team effort,” said Vernon, who is also majoring in electrical engineering. “We had to schedule regular meetings to make sure everyone was working toward the same goal.”

“If we hadn’t communicated effectively, we would have lost so much time backtracking on work,” added teammate Bates, an electrical engineering major with computer option.

In addition to technical knowledge, Sanchez said students developed “soft skills” such as listening, public speaking, and time management.

“I always tell my students your engineering degree and problem-solving skills may land you the job, but it’s the soft skills that will get you promoted,” he remarked.