Lawrence Tech wins sixth straight world championship for self-driving cars

SOUTHFIELD—If they gave out gaudy world championship rings for winning the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition’s Self-Drive Challenge, Lawrence Technological University would now be starting on its sixth finger.

For the sixth straight year, Lawrence Tech won the IGVC Self-Drive Challenge, part of a competition for vehicle autonomy established in 1993 by the U.S. Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center in Warren, formerly known as TARDEC, and the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International Foundation. The competition began Friday and ended Monday.

A manikin is wheeled into the path of Lawrence Tech’s autonomous vehicle. The vehicle stopped automatically, avoiding striking the “pedestrian.” LTU photo / Matt Roush

The IGVC has two parts. The oldest competition, the Auto-Nav Challenge, has small robot vehicles the size of a kiddie car using various autonomy technologies to find their way around a winding, obstacle-filled course laid out on a parking lot at Oakland University in Rochester.

In 2017, IGVC added a Self-Drive Challenge for autonomous passenger cars. Lawrence Tech won that competition—and won it again in 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022, and now 2023. (The IGVC took 2020 off due to the pandemic.)

LTU’s Self-Drive Challenge is comprised of computer science students under the direction of Professor C.J. Chung. LTU’s computer science program is part of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Chung noted that the Self-Drive Challenge gets more challenging every year. This year, instead of twice around the same course, IGVC asked teams to do two different loops around the parking lot—one short loop, one long loop—and various obstacles were moved in and out of the vehicle’s way for it to maneuver around. There was even a “fake stop sign,” marked “IGVC” or “SOUP” instead of STOP, that the vehicle had to be programmed to ignore, even though it was a red octagon similar to a regular stop sign.

Judges in red hats gather around the Lawrence Tech autonomous vehicle Monday. LTU photo / Matt Roush

“We had new team members, and they did a great job this year to win again,” Chung said. “The big improvement was using brain-inspired deep learning technologies in action, such as identifying the fake stop sign and avoiding objects in the road. Areas of improvement for next year include allowing dynamic adjustments in computer vision based on changes in sunlight.”

The team captain, Justin Dombecki, araduated in May with a Master of Science in computer science from LTU. He was a key member of Chung’s research project to integrate technology called Robotic Technology Kernel for the electric vehicle used in the competition with a mobile app interface, which was funded by the GVSC from 2019 to 2022.

Graduate team members included Devson Butani, a 2019 LTU graduate in mechanical engineering now studying for a master’s degree in computer science at LTU, and Austin Ramsey, a 2023 Master of Science in computer science graduate. Undergraduate team member, Ryan Kaddis, is going into his fourth year in LTU’s accelerated five-year Bachelor and Master of Science in computer science program. Kaddis participated in a National Science Foundation-funded summer research program on self-drive technologies last year, led by Chung. Another undergraduate member was Adilur Choudhury, a 2022 LTU Bachelor of Science in computer science graduate now pursuing his master’s degree at LTU part-time while working full-time as an associate software engineer at the machine vision firm Cognex. Team co-advisors were Nick Paul, an LTU alumnus who’s now an LTU adjunct professor of computer science, and Giuseppe DeRose, an LTU adjunct professor of mechanical engineering who is also an LTU computer science graduate student.

LTU robotics engineering students, part of the College of Engineering, also fielded an Auto-Nav Challenge team. That team qualified for the competition for the first time since 2019 but did not finish in the top six.

A total of 29 universities from the United States, Canada, India, and Japan participated in the IGVC this year, with six Self-Drive Challenge teams and 24 Auto-Nav Challenge teams.

Besides the Army’s GVSC and the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International Foundation, IGVC sponsors include Great Lakes Systems and Technology, Oakland University, RoboNation, Hyundai Mobis, the National Defense Industrial Association, FEV, Veoneer, BAE Systems, MathWorks, Dataspeed Inc., and General Dynamics Land Systems.

Lawrence Technological University is one of only 13 private, technological, comprehensive doctoral universities in the United States. Located in Southfield, Mich., LTU was founded in 1932 and offers more than 100 programs through its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 11 percent of universities for alumni salaries. Forbes and The Wall Street Journal rank LTU among the nation’s top 10 percent. U.S. News and World Report list it in the top tier of the best Midwest colleges. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.