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Russ College autonomous vehicle team wins two top-three places in international contest

Anna Hartenbach and Colleen Carow | Aug 17, 2018

Russ College autonomous vehicle team wins two top-three places in international contest

Anna Hartenbach and Colleen Carow | Aug 17, 2018

The new Russ College Professional Autonomous Vehicle Engineers (PAVE) team earned top scores in Canada last month after drag racing Bobcat-inspired autonomous vehicles against competitors from around the world.

Competing with their “Wild Bobcat,” a retrofit radio-controlled car, and “Pathfinder,” a modified electric children’s car, the team placed second in the drag race contest, third in design, and sixth overall among 13 student teams from five countries at the International Autonomous Robot Racing Competition (IARRC), held July 13-15 at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

Since 2005, the annual competition has familiarized engineering students with autonomous mobile robotics technology through real-world, hands-on challenges.

“Now we have a working platform, and we know what needs to be improved,” said Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Jim Zhu, the team’s adviser. “They went through ups and downs but learned professionalism and many other non-textbook characteristics, which you need in order to turn knowledge into good,” added Zhu, who helped found the team.

Dylan Denner, a rising senior who is a double major in applied mathematics and computer engineering, joined the 16-member team three weeks before IARRC, eager to gain experience with autonomous vehicles.

“It’s always a great experience presenting engineering work, and taking scientific and mathematical concepts and translating them to a broad audience. We’re experts in this field for our specific design because each team had different designs so we had to explain how our design approach met the competition challenges,” said Denner, who acted as the team’s crew chief at the IARRC.

Thanks to grants from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the School of EECS, and Russ Vision funds, the newly-formed PAVE team has accelerated quickly, steering right into IARRC and another competition earlier this summer: the 27th Annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC) at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan in June.

Rising electrical engineering senior Matchima Buddhanoy said she has gained practical skills – like using mechanical and electrical tools, reading electronic component data sheets, using CAD and Multisim to draw circuit diagrams, and problem-solving on a team – that she wouldn’t have otherwise gained in the classroom.

“It was helpful to my education, and I believe that classroom learning is different than practical learning,” she said. “Participating in the competitions helped solidify theory through these practical applications.”

Electrical engineering and computer science Ph.D. candidate Amy Chen said the teamwork experience will be useful to her future work.

“Through these two competitions I learned that team work is really powerful. We achieved a lot in two months, and it’s only because of every team member’s contribution,” Chen said.

Zhu, who incorporated lessons from both competitions into his summer online vehicle control course, said the team will demonstrate drag and circuit racing for first-year students at the Russ College’s annual freshman welcome event later this month.

For more info. or to join the team, contact Professor Zhu at or 740.597.1506