Robot Vehicles Are Students' Passport to Passing Grade
CREDIT: University of Arizona
As college students wrap up the spring semester, most will measure their success in letter grades. However, the engineering students at the University of Arizona have a more tangible metric this yeartwo robotic vehicles that, through the students' efforts, are fully functioning again.
Last year an engineering professor at the university found himself with two broken down robotic mining vehicles ? a loader and a hauling truck ? and designed a course around them.
The equipment had come from Freeport McMoran, a gold and copper mining company that experimented with robotic technology.
"When the economy tanked, they had to close the program down. So they donated two vehicles that were used for testing," the professor, Larry Head, said.
Neither of the donated vehicles arrived in a pretty state. Students who enrolled in Head's course would have to rebuild the machines from the ground up, without functioning hardware or software, and without the help of wiring diagrams.
"Nobody expected them to be able to drive autonomously by the end of the semester. And they did that and even more," Head told InnovationNewsDaily.
After doctoring the vehicles back to health, the students contacted the company that had installed the original software, Autonomous Solution. With the company's help, the class managed to get the two trucks operating on the road without a driver.
With time to spare, the students decided to go a step further and write their own robotic control algorithm using an open-source platform called ROS (short for Robot Operating System). The software enabled the trucks to autonomously navigate a preset course laid out in GPS points.
Robotic trucks are particularly useful because mining tends to get more dangerous as resources start to run low, explained Head. "There are a lot of mines now that are very deep underground. And when you get way, way, underground, the temperatures are very high."
Systems like these also could solve banal traffic problems. Autonomous features in cars could one day network with each other, giving individual vehicles the power to negotiate with others on the street to avoid accidents.