Intelligent Ground Vehicle Traveling to International Competition

Date: 05-27-2010

Kathleen McPartland
Public Affairs
Ramesh Varahamurti
Mechatronic Engineering Program

Five engineering students will be traveling with the vehicle they have built to the 18th Annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle (IGV) Competition in Rochester, Michigan, June 4–7. The Mechatronic Engineering Program at California State University, Chico sponsors the IGV project.

The IGV is a totally autonomous vehicle. Once the competition starts, the team members can touch the vehicle only to turn it on. The moment it is turned on, it is on its own. To navigate an obstacle course, it must be able to actually see the road and know where it is.

This is the third year that CSU, Chico has entered the competition. The team has learned from the experience of the first two groups and added features such as a stereo-vision camera, for which they wrote the software. They’ve created a system to test the vehicle via an iPhone; they’ve combined the entire system so that it uses one computer rather than the two used previously; and they’ve created line-following software that allows the vehicle to run continuously (previously, the vehicle would stop as it processed the huge amount of data it was receiving).

The project is one of a kind in terms of the degree of multi-disciplinary cooperation. Students from the Mechatronic Engineering Program and the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Manufacturing Technology and Computer Science contributed to the project.

“Many of the other engineering projects for competitions our students have produced come out of one discipline,” said Ramesh Varahamurti, coordinator of the Mechatronic Engineering Program. “For example, the human powered vehicle comes out of mechanical engineering and the micromouse out of Electrical and Computer Engineering. This is a complex project that integrates many systems and many types of engineering. It has given the students the opportunity to collaborate across fields, which is invaluable to their future careers.”

The Mechatronic Engineering Program at CSU, Chico is also one of a kind. It is the first such program in the United States, with two others being established currently. A curriculum development program at San Jose State University, sponsored by the National Science Foundation in 1996, sparked interest in the program. CSU, Chico engineers had already created a comprehensive program which was awaiting approval from the Chancellor’s Office.

“Recently, I talked to one of the organizers at that original San Jose conference,” said Varahamurti, “and he said that he was surprised that we made it work—he and his colleagues hadn’t thought it was possible.”

The quality of work produced by students in the program has been noticed and spawned other collaborations, including with Lawrence Livermore Labs. Another project spawned by the IGV work was a tomato transplanter developed with the School of Agriculture that relied on the ability of the IGV to see color and transplant tomatoes autonomously.

The students working on the project and traveling to the competition include mechatronic engineering students Scott Vanni, Brian DeWilde, Corey Abbott and George Wing; Teresa Muir, mechanical engineering; and Michael Tonelli, electrical engineering.