Universities Building Automated Chevy Bolts For SAE and GM Challenge

Eight universities in North America are redesigning autonomous Chevy Bolts to compete in the upcoming AutoDrive Challenge.

At SAE World Congress Experience in Detroit this week, SAE International and General Motors announced these universities will be demonstrating automated Bolts during a three-year challenge. Kettering University, Michigan State University, Michigan Tech, North Carolina A&T University, Texas A&M University, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and Virginia Tech have qualified to compete.

By year three, the teams will need to reach SAE’s level 4 standard, which means the car can be fully automated even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene. That’s one notch below level 5, which allows for full automation. Many of the automated systems being integrated now by automakers are considered to be level 3 for conditional automation.

Student teams will receive a Chevy Bolt as the vehicle platform. University teams will be working with strategic partners and suppliers in their projects by providing vehicle parts and software.

SAE and GM see these competitions as a training ground for future engineers ready to work on the next generation of automated systems.

“SAE International is excited to expand our partnership with GM to build the future STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workforce through the AutoDrive Challenge,” said Chris Ciuca, director of Pre-Professional Programs at SAE International. “Building on our success through programs like Formula SAE, the AutoDrive Challenge launches a new platform to engage industry and academia in working towards a common goal of preparing the brightest young minds for the future of autonomous technologies.”

Year 1 in the competition begins in fall 2017, where university teams will go to GM’s Desert Proving Ground in Yuma, Ariz., to work on concept designs and simple missions during on-site evaluations.

During Year 2 in 2018, teams will take it to the next level through solid system development with more sophisticated functions tested on tracks. During Year 3, the automated electric cars will go through final validation and must navigate successfully through tougher driving track conditions. The vehicles will need to go to higher speeds and safely drive through fast-changing conditions such as detecting moving objects on roads.

Skillsets gained by students will include working with real-world applications of sensing technologies, computing platforms, and software design implementation. Advanced computation will be part of the learning curve, where students are expected to gain hands-on experience in machine learning, artificial intelligence, sensor fusion, and autonomous vehicle controls, among others.

“The students and faculty at these schools bring deep knowledge and technical skills to the competition. We are proud to help offer these students the hands-on experience necessary for them to make an immediate impact on the automotive world when they graduate,” said Ken Kelzer, GM vice president of global vehicle components and subsystems.

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GM has been fascinated with the automated driving potential of the electric car, as the company prepares to test self-driving Bolts with ride-hailing firm and partner Lyft starting in 2018.

University competitions aren’t new for SAE or GM. The Formula SAE student design competition for race cars goes back to 1980.

The Detroit automaker is now hosting EcoCar 3 with the U.S. Department of Energy. During the three-year challenge, 16 North American university teams are directed to redesign a Chevy Camaro to reduce its environmental impact while maintaining the muscle power expected by Camaro drivers.

University teams, led by engineering professors, have tried out different configurations and power options to drive GM vehicles on proving grounds during EcoCar 1 through 3. That’s included battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and ethanol flex-fuel systems.


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