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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Professor, students build self-driven car”

    It ‘s only 2008 and already a car that can drive on its own is a feasible idea.

    Jonathan Sprinkle, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is hoping to change the idea into reality by making a car that completely drives itself. A car that seems like it is driven by a human when it is actually driven entirely by a computer.

    All the person would have to do is start the car, and the rest of the driving involves no input from the driver.

    His efforts with ground vehicles began last year in October when Sprinkle worked on making an autonomous Toyota as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Urban Challenge while he was doing his post doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley.

    “”The Urban Challenge motivated us to get into this domain,”” Sprinkle said.

    Sprinkle and his students are now working to expand on what he did at the Urban Challenge. The work is a joint effort of the UA and the University of Sydney.

    “”The car I had at Berkeley could drive on its own all the time. It was really cool. I don’t have a car here yet,”” Sprinkle said.

    The hard part of getting a car to drive itself is that it needs to avoid obstacles, stay within the lanes, and get a person where they need to go.

    “”It is hard for the car to know what is around it, and it does not know what the other people are going to do,”” Sprinkle said.

    All cars have computers on board, but the newer ones do not have a distributor cap anymore. A computer knows how warm a car is, and other things that can increase fuel efficiency.

    But the work Sprinkle is doing goes beyond engine control and infotainment, which are DVD players and TV monitors in cars.

    “”It is so hard to make this work with cars that are already being driven,”” Sprinkle said. “”What I want to do is define algorithms generally so it can work on all cars.””

    Sprinkle said he imagines his end goal will probably not happen for another 20 years.

    At the lab in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department students are currently doing simulation work in hopes to get an autonomous car at the UA.

    Hussain Al-Helal, a computer engineering junior, is part of a team working on the lasers for the car.

    “”The lasers can detect objects in the road and give the car a sense of vision so that it does not get in a collision,”” said Al-Helal.

    “”It is quite a scary idea in my opinion, you are at the mercy of software that could potentially glitch,”” he added.

    “”Some weeks the work becomes your life. I’m sure I am growing gray hairs from it,”” said Al-Helal.

    Jason Horwitz, a computer engineering senior, is also part of the laser team.

    “”It is fun working with the autonomous cars because that’s the way of the future,”” Horwitz said.

    “”It is quite difficult to program the car to make decisions based on what it sees via the lasers,”” Horwitz said.

    Nick Loukas, a computer engineering senior, is working with a group whose goal is to integrate two cars into the simulation so that the cars can interact in traffic.

    “”The goal is to make each car have the necessary algorithms to detect other cars and avoid them autonomously,”” said Loukas.

    “”It has been a challenging project in that we are working with software written by a team from another university so the integration of our code with theirs has been a difficult task,”” Loukas said.

    By the end of the year the students will put all of their components together and run a simulation. If they can prove that the robot is safe in simulation, it will be put into a car.

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