Virginia Tech Sets the Pace for Autonomous Cars in the SAE AutoDrive Challenge™
Virginia Tech Sets the Pace for Autonomous Cars in the SAE AutoDrive Challenge™

Megha Posted on 01 Jan 1970

It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of self-driving vehicles was confined to the realm of science fiction. Movies in popular culture have depicted a number of cars that can safely transport their passengers from point A to point B without human assistance. 

This fictional future is slowly becoming a present reality as different companies race to bring this technology to mass markets. Virginia Tech and other institutions are joining this pursuit by competing in the SAE International AutoDrive Challenge to bring autonomous vehicles to our roads.

This competition pits universities against each other over the course of 3 years with one goal in mind: to develop a Level 4 Autonomous Car that can navigate a complex driving course. The first year focuses “on developing a conceptual design and [working] with sensing and computation software.” Year two is about “[improving] on their ideas and [making] solid system developments;” everything from changing multiple lanes to dynamically detecting objects. Finally, in the third year, the car will be moving at high speeds while navigating around moving objects and turnabouts. This challenge isn’t simply about travelling in a straight line!

To Level 4 Automation and Beyond!

On the contrary, the goal of a Level 4 Autonomous car, with “High Automation,” is to make it drivable without needing a human.

The website New Atlas describes that level of autonomy this way: “Hands, off, eyes off, mind off – sometimes... It can drive itself full time under the right circumstances, and if it encounters something it can\\\'t handle, it can ask for human assistance…” SAE, which sponsors the AutoDrive Challenge, developed the definitions the auto industry will use when talking about the degree of autonomy in cars. Per SAE, a car can be level 0 with “No Automation” all the way up to level 5 which is “Full Automation”.

To this end, a dedicated team from Virginia Tech is busy outfitting a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt with software, sensors, and more. This is the car the team, known as Victor Tango, uses to compete in the AutoDrive Challenge.

In its initial year of participating in the competition, the Victor Tango team is well on its way to achieving success. The past twelve months have been a whirlwind for them. In the first events of the challenge Team Victor Tango, or VT, has placed 3rd in the overall competition and in the top three in both static and dynamic challenges. VT accomplished all of this while teaching its members real-world skills using Odoo and teamwork.

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