Artificial Intelligence of Racecars
by Marilyn Hazlett
Students in the AI for Racecars Creative Inquiry project, mentored by Dr. Yiqiang Han in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, are developing technology that could influence the next generation of off-road autonomous vehicles. Working in pairs, the students apply the programming skills they have acquired in their engineering and business courses to develop software specifically for unmanned vehicles. The students’ goal is to gain experience in the autonomous automotive sector during their undergraduate years.
This research prepares students for industry careers and graduate education. In the course of the Creative Inquiry project, Han ensures that students learn programs such as Python and Robot Operating System (ROS) that are popular in industry and academic research. Students participating in the project have gone on to prestigious PhD programs and high-level industry jobs. Duncan Nicholson, a past team
leader and licensed private glider pilot, is studying Aerospace Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University. Jamal Nasser, a senior computer science major, has interned at Microsoft, Google and Facebook since he joined the team.
Each semester, the Creative Inquiry project’s focus shifts to best fit the interests and abilities of the participating students. In the Fall of 2019, students wrote an artificial intelligence (AI) system for model racecars to play soccer. The students were able to control movements of the cars and the cameras mounted on each. The AI system taught the cameras to identify the ‘ball’—a plastic cube—and move the vehicle toward it. Once physical contact was made with the ball, the vehicle shifted to search for the goal. Upon locating the target, the vehicle was programmed to push the ball into the goal and score! Currently, the team is focusing on expanding this platform to accomplish more generalized tasks such as off-road autonomous navigation and package delivery.
While we might not see soccer on the race track next NASCAR season, the skills students develop in this Creative Inquiry project can be applied to various types of mechanical and software engineering research. Through this project, Clemson students explore novel research in the rapidly growing field of autonomous systems, ranging from aerial-ground coordination and off-road package delivery to autonomous racecars playing soccer.
Visit the team’s website https://spark.adobe.com/page/HhBx6NVfi52jZ/ to see their work!
Barbara J. Speziale