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Students Bring Classroom Learning to Freescale Cup Racing Competition

Thursday, May 28, 2015
Freescale Cup racing team in the BIC.

Off To The Races: Students Jason Dodd and Erin Scully helped design and create two vehicles that finished in the top seven teams at this year's Freescale Cup, an international autonomous miniature car challenge. Marc Herniter, professor of electrical and computer engineering, was the teams' faculty advisor. (Photo by Dale Long)

A high-pitched whir follows as a speeding car glides swiftly through "S" curves, zooms down long straightaways, and then over tiny mounds on the track. Racing against the clock, the 1/18th-scale speedster finally slams to a stop after navigating the course in about 20 seconds.

This is the action captivating Rose-Hulman students and faculty in the Freescale Cup, an international autonomous model car competition sponsored by Texas-based semiconductor manufacturer Freescale Semiconductor. Each car in the competition must autonomously complete the roughly 120-foot circuit.

For the first time, a pair of student teams from Rose-Hulman competed at the USA East Coast Regional Finals early this May in Rochester, New York. The teams finished sixth and seventh out of more than two dozen teams.

"Both [Rose-Hulman] teams had one of the few cars that were able to complete the track, which was extremely exciting and satisfying," says mechanical engineering major Erin Scully, who joined electrical engineering major Jake Bellis on the seventh-place Team Fightin' Engineers. The team's vehicle completed the circuit on its second of three attempts.

The sixth-place squad, Team Mario Brothers, was comprised of seniors Weijian Zhang, a computer engineering major, and electrical engineering major Jason Dodd.

Despite the intense competition and razor-thin margins separating the track times, competitors were also willing to help each other, often offering advice to other squads, notes Zhang. Applying classroom and textbook learning to real-world problems was one of the most satisfying aspects of the Freescale Cup, he says.

Marc Herniter, professor of electrical and computer engineering, hopes Rose-Hulman will send four teams to the Freescale Cup next year. Herniter is the faculty advisor for the Freescale Cup Model-Based Design Club, and attended the regional finals with the teams this year.

"I think we can win next year," Herniter speculates. He expects students to make improvements to their cars' mechanics, tire grip, and other features-producing improved track times.

Freescale supplies the basic cars for the competition. It is then up to the students' ingenuity to make improvements that affect the vehicle's performance, Herniter says.

Students dedicated up to eight hours per week leading up to the Freescale Cup project, estimated Bellis.

The Freescale Cup teaches students about computer, electrical and mechanical engineering while enhancing their teamwork and communication skills, according to Herniter. He hopes to integrate the activity into academic course work that allows students to get credit for their hard work.

"Students are applying skills that they've learned in class," Herniter says.

Freescale Semiconductor is a global leader in embedded processing solutions for the automotive, consumer, industrial, and networking markets. The company's chief executive officer is Gregg Lowe, a 1984 electrical engineering alumnus.