CORVALLIS - A team made up of Oregon State University engineering students, faculty and local engineers has been named one of 40 semi-finalist teams vying for a $2-million prize offered by U.S. Department of Defense.
The goal of the competition is a vehicle capable of successfully navigating a rugged, 175-mile "2005 Grand Challenge" course across a Southwest desert without a driver or any human intervention.
"This is exciting news for both Oregon State and the state of Oregon," said Belinda Batten, head of the OSU Department of Mechanical Engineering and faculty mentor for the team. "To be one of 40 finalists from an original field of 195 teams - in our first year attempting this - testifies to the creativity, ingenuity and perseverance of the people involved. It's an incredible accomplishment."
The OSU-based team, called Oregon WAVE (Willamette Autonomous Vehicle Enterprise), is the only qualifying team from the Pacific Northwest and is made up of more than 30 OSU engineering students, faculty and local engineering professionals.
In late September, the 40 semi-finalist teams will participate in the final qualifying round at the California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., to determine which 20 teams set out on the grueling cross-desert race.
Team members at OSU were thrilled to learn they had made the cut.
"I knew this would be very tough because many of the other teams have a lot more resources than ours, and many competed in the Grand Challenge race last year," said Matt MacClary, team member and graduate student in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "Our vehicle is one of the lightest and most fuel efficient in the running."
Many impressive teams were eliminated during the semi-final qualifying round, and the list of remaining contenders includes some of the most advanced vehicle systems in existence, MacClary said.
"Some vehicles have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of navigational, sensing and computing equipment on board," MacClary said. "Our autonomous system uses plenty of navigational and sensing technology, but it stands out from the pack because it does not require racks of power-hungry computers to drive itself."
The OSU-based team has spent about $5,000 on their vehicle, not including the car itself. That was donated by the OSU 2003 SAE Mini-Baja race team, which designed and built it for the 2003 SAE Mini-Baja competition.
The autonomous car is a small, four-wheeled, Baja-style race car that has been modified to include terrain sensors, vision systems, servo controlled steering, and other features, including technology developed in OSU's TekBots robotic program.
Batten hopes this news will inspire engineers and businesses to support the Oregon WAVE team, both financially and technically.
"Qualifying at this level means we're definitely a competitor, and now we're looking for sponsors to help us take our vehicle all the way to the finish line," Batten said. "This is a great opportunity for the Oregon business community to partner with our students. We have a wealth of electronics and engineering expertise in this state, and the Grand Challenge race is a chance to show the world our stuff."
Much of the technology integrated into the OSU-based vehicle is not off-the-shelf technology, but has been developed by graduate students at the university, Batten said. Current sponsors include Mentor Graphics, Alpha Omega, Garmin, SICK and Morrobotics. Mentor Graphics of Wilsonville has made major contributions of time and simulation software to the project, Batten said.
"Mentor Graphics is very proud to be a part of the Oregon Wave Grand Challenge team," said Darrell Teegarden, the company's engineering manager. "We are excited to see how this small, focused team is leveraging Mentor's products, including system modeling tools, CAN bus communication tools, Real-time operating systems, and FPGA tools, to develop a truly innovative autonomous vehicle."
The vehicle design, including mechanical and electronic systems, is an integral part of the hands-on curriculum for students studying mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering at Oregon State.
More information and video footage of the Oregon WAVE vehicle can be found at the team's website at http://www.oregonstate.edu/grandchallenge.