By Maj. Douglas Halleaux (Army National Guard)June 8, 2018
ROCHESTER, MICHIGAN--Students in robotics, from electrical engineers to business majors, gathered at the 26th Annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition at Oakland University co-hosted by the U. S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) June 1-4, 2018.
The competition pitches robotics teams from universities and colleges around the world against one another in a variety of autonomous-related events.
The four-day event includes three different competitions, an auto-navigation course, a design competition, and what's called an "Interoperable Profiles" competition.
The auto-navigation course requires a student-built vehicle to navigate a course lined with white paint guidelines and construction barrels-- very much like a human driver does on a road. At one point along the course, the "road" disappears and the robot must rely on GPS waypoint navigation, before re-acquiring the road pattern and continuing on.
Bernard Theisen is a project manager with TARDEC's Ground Vehicle Robotics group and has been involved with the competition for years.
"IGVC is the world's largest international university ground robotics competition," says Theisen. "It's a fully-autonomous competition, which means once the students hit a button, the robot does all the rest."
The design competition, originally started in cooperation with the Society of Automotive Engineers, SAE, brings students in front of a panel of design judges. Far from a robotic beauty pageant, judges look for excellence in design process, documentation, electrical, software, mechanical and mapping design, among other considerations that develop a solid entrant.
The third competition gauges IOP, or interoperable profiles, which is the U.S. Army's ground robotics standards. It's an optional competition which is typically sponsored by the Army's Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support.
"This portion of the competition tests to see if teams are using the same standards that Army does," says Theisen. "Most of those standards end up becoming SAE standards."
The event, says Theisen, is geared toward inspiring excitement among university students in robotics.
"I want to go work in my major, computer science, and this is definitely focused more on real-world applications," says 2nd Lt. Geoffrey Stoker, a recently-commissioned officer from the United States Military Academy and member of West Point's robotics team. "Until this, I've only known simulations; to be able to get a piece of technology that can affect actual life and is more physical is more of my focus now."
Shonte Cargill is an electrical engineer at Bluefield State College and is her team's electrical lead.
"I love robotics, and I love teaching robotics," says Cargill. "What I really want to do is go into energy systems, but I also want to be a part of a robotics program where I get to teach younger generations about robotics. I feel as though if I started this when I was younger, I'd be so much better [at it] than I am now."
Theisen says this is music to his ears.
"It's a great experience," says Theisen. "I actually wish I knew more about this competition when I was a student, because I would have totally been here on the field, building the robot, participating, but I think it's a great thing."
The annual competition this year was co-hosted by Great Lakes Systems and Technology, AUVSI, and Oakland University's School of Engineering and Computer Science. For more information about this year's event, visit www.igvc.org.