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Self-driving Model Car Team Gains Traction in NXP Cup Regional

Friday, May 20, 2016
NXP Cup Starttime

Start time: The all-freshmen team of Tim Wynia, Eric Moorman, and Jake Gathof make last-minute preparations for the NXP Cup in Rochester, New York. Photo courtesy of Marc Herniter.

A team from Rose-Hulman finished fifth at the NXP Cup North America Qualifications May 7 in Rochester, New York.

Four teams from Rose-Hulman were among 21 collegiate squads in the competition, where 1/18th-scale model cars had to finish a random multi-turn racetrack as quickly as possible without human intervention.

Team Never Crash made up of electrical engineering majors Pengzi Zhou, a senior, and Xiangyu Liu, a junior, scored fifth with a time of 16.9 seconds. The winning team, from host school Rochester Institute of Technology, completed the 120-foot track in 15.1 seconds.

Only the top two teams, both from RIT, advanced to the North American finals this June in Austin, Texas.

"It was a great experience," says Marc Herniter, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering who accompanied Rose-Hulman's teams to the qualifications. "Most of the members indicated that they want to participate again next year."

This was only the second year Rose-Hulman took part in the NXP Cup, which this year included teams from Temple University, Penn State, and Virginia Commonwealth. Rose-Hulman squads finished sixth and seventh in 2015.

Each NXP Cup car features a tiny linescan camera allowing it to follow the roadway, adjusting for turns or other obstacles. Teams are allowed to add other sensors such as wheel speed, accelerometers, and infrared detectors. The challenge is to give the car as much speed as possible while holding the curves, team members say.

"The most difficult part is keeping it on the track," says freshman Fengyi Huang, a computer science major and first-time NXP Cup competitor.

In a novel twist, Team TCZK, made up of freshmen Eric Moorman (software engineering), Jake Gathof (computer science), and Tim Wynia (mechanical engineering and computer science), added a second camera to their car to give additional depth of vision. They also experimented with providing more torque to their car's outside drive wheel, referred to as rear-wheel steering, to provide an extra kick in the turns.

Rose-Hulman NXP Cup Club co-president Erin Scully, a junior mechanical engineering major, took part in the Rochester regional last year as part of Team Fightin' Engineers and returned again this year. She wants to better understand the car's software components so she can serve as a mentor to students in the Rose-Hulman-hosted High School Autonomous Vehicle Competition, she says. That annual event is sponsored by Ford Motor Company, MathWorks, and NXP.

Netherlands-based NXP Semiconductors purchased Freescale Semiconductor, which previously sponsored the collegiate competition, last year.