SOUTH KINGSTOWN – A team of three computer engineering students from the University of Rhode Island took second place in a national competition to build an intelligent model car that follows a route without humans controlling it.
URI computer engineering seniors Jillian Burgess of North Kingstown, Steve Norris of North Attleboro and Ben Ricci of Portsmouth entered the “Freescale Cup” as a term project for a computer organization course as an alternative to a typical laboratory experience and exams.
The team was provided with a model car kit, standard components and a Freescale computer to drive it. The students engineering the vehicle, wrote computer programs and algorithms to enable the car to drive by itself and to follow a black line on a track to the finish line.
The students’ vehicle finished first on April 27 in a timed race against teams from 16 other universities in the eastern United States, but they lost in a head-to-head competition against the winner of the western regional, the University of California at Berkeley, according to a URI release.
The winning Berkeley team will travel to China to compete in the world championship later this year.
“We arrived, pushed go and it ran the whole course without a problem,” said Ricci, who aims for a career in robotics or embedded software after graduation this month in a statement. “I expected we would do well, but winning wasn’t even on my radar.”
According to the URI release, the vehicles use a camera and sensors to “see” the black line on the track and then processed that data to make decisions about proper steering and speed. Once the students push a button to start the vehicle, they provide no additional input to guide the machine to its destination.
“Most of it was a programming exercise, but our steering control algorithm was also really well written,” said Norris, who is returning to URI for graduate school next fall. “We detected and reacted to turns better than the other teams. The other teams would constantly over-steer.”
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