Terri-Jane Yuzda

Driverless Vehicle Earns International Attention


University of Alberta
Student Contributor


Excitement builds as onlookers anticipate the start of the competition. Designers stand at the sidelines, anxious and hopeful. Finally the whistle is blown and the vehicle zips off.

But wait! Where’s the driver? Where’s the remote control?

Ah yes, that’s what makes this competition different from the others. The vehicle is autonomous – it needs neither driver nor remote control. It is self-governing.

In other words, this vehicle drives itself.

That makes it the centrepiece of what the U of A calls the Autonomous Robotic Vehicle Project. ARVP began in 1996, so it’s one of the more recently established student projects at the university. Its main goal every year is to complete a robot for the International Ground Robotics Competition, held in the U.S.

The competition itself is fairly new as well, founded in 1992 by a number of organizations, among them the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Oakland University, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Armament Command.

The next generation of the autonomous robotic vehicle is being built upon the Kodiak platform.

Plenty of Interest
The world looks on because the applications of these robots are of wide interest. And with sponsors such as the United States Department of Defense, General Motors and CSI Wireless, to name just a few, you can see why such a competition would raise a few eyebrows.

This summer, about 25 universities from around the world, including the U.S., Canada and Japan, will meet at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., to compete in the ground robotics competition.

There are three main events. The Autonomous Challenge has the vehicles navigate themselves around an outdoor obstacle course within an allotted time. The Design Challenge involves a written report on the vehicle and a complete presentation in front of judges.

And finally, the Navigation Challenge has the vehicles drive themselves to several targets, using only their global positioning system and coordinates for checkpoints. If this weren’t enough, the vehicles must also contend with obstacles set up on the course.

To complete the daunting tasks the competition presents, the ARVP team is divided into six sub-teams, as well as an overall team executive.

The sponsorship, logistics, administration and management team facilitates the actions of the rest of the sub-teams. It orders parts, balances the books, recruits sponsors, and organizes events and activities for the ARVP to attend.

The Outreach team generates interest in the project, and educates students and the public about robotics, programming, logic and mechanics in a hands-on fashion. This team has travelled to schools, shows, conventions and science fairs.

The mechanical, electrical, software, and feature and application teams take care of the technical aspects of the project. The first three of these are self-explanatory, but the feature and application team probably isn’t.

An Eye for Commercial Applications
The FAT team, as it’s known, brings an entrepreneurial touch to the project. Members look to design features and applications for the robotic vehicle that may eventually be used as a consumer product.

Indeed, about two years ago the FAT team designed the Mobile Robotic Analysis System, which was attached to the robotic vehicle to take soil samples from areas found to be hazardous for human exposure. This design won them the team an opportunity to compete in a Canada-wide competition in 2002.

The ARVP has enjoyed much praise and recognition. It won the International Ground Robotics Competition navigation challenge in 2001 with its Bear Cub robot. It went on to place second in the 2002 IGVC design competition with Kodiak.

Toys Were Them
And then there was 2003. That year, a shipping error had the ARVP team showing up with only half a vehicle.

Team members did not throw in the towel, however. Instead, they high-tailed it to a nearby Toys-R-Us, bought a children’s electric ride-on vehicle for $10, and with extra pieces from Home Depot and Sears, plus loads of Velcro, built what they lovingly called the KodiHack.

The electronics, computer equipment and fibreglass shell that the ARVP team did have were combined with the local materials to fashion a robot that met all the specifications of the competition – in time, by the way, to win fourth place in design. Judges and peers were thoroughly impressed by the resourcefulness and sharp wittedness of the team.

Who knows what fate will toss the team’s way in 2004. But David Kastelan, ARVP leader, says things look good for the next generation of autonomous robotic vehicle.

“ The current platform, Kodiak, is undergoing a number of revisions that will render it a turnkey vehicle,” he says. “Many sensors are being added to contribute to the advancements in the robot’s artificial intelligence and will make the ARVP a serious contender for the Grand Award in June.”

See the vehicle up close and personal on Saturday, Jan. 10, at the Odyssium, as well as at the Edmonton International Auto Show from Feb. 26-29. The ARVP also welcomes requests from schools, community groups, and companies for presentations on robotics.


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