The Victor Tango AutoDrive Challenge Team at Virginia Tech hosted AutoDrive Day in the Goodwin atrium to garner community support, recognize the team’s sponsors and recruit Virginia Tech students, on Sept. 28.
The team brought out its electrical, self-driving car and parked it in front of Goodwin Hall for community and campus members to see, and behind it was an auto-driving vehicle by Torc Robotics, which is an autonomous vehicle and technology company that started in Blacksburg.
Additionally, tables were set up inside of the Goodwin atrium with posters and gadgets that extensively described the technical background of what each subteam of Victor Tango did, as well as some other extra components of the car and team. Some subteams with booths included the path-planning team, which maps out local and global paths for the vehicle, the hardware team, perception team and software team.
The event was for Virginia Tech faculty and students, as well as high schoolers and middle schoolers. Caroline McDonald, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering and one of the project managers of Victor Tango, said the team wanted to show the kids what they can be involved with at Virginia Tech.
Students from both Radford and Blacksburg schools attended the event. Blacksburg High School’s Technology Students Association club, which works with Victor Tango, was also there.
“We brought in some high and middle school students to get them excited with technology,” McDonald said.
Moreover, the team hosted AutoDrive Day because of the controversial subject of self-driving cars. McDonald said this event was a way to educate the community about how self-driving cars really worked through the various exhibits.
“Just getting people informed with what actually goes into an autonomous vehicle, what we do to make them safe, how they're made, just how they work in general will give people a better feeling,” McDonald said. “The community will be more positive to it and accepting.”
Victor Tango also wanted to recognize their sponsors for the autonomous vehicle parts and the overall competition. For instance, some teams advertised on the car include Velodyne, who gives them LiDAR systems, and Continental, who gives the team radars. Some sponsors that came to AutoDrive Day included Moog and Torc Robotics.
Steven Roberts, a senior majoring in computer engineering and computer science, said that most of their funding comes from sponsors of the team, who will also usually give direct parts for the autonomous vehicle. In fact, the Chevrolet Bolt being used for the autonomous vehicle project was given to the team by General Motors, a sponsor and creator of the AutoDrive Challenge.
“A lot of our physical products come from the people who make the product because then they get their name on the car,” said Roberts, who is the path planning lead of the team. “People can (also) see their thing in action.”
Roberts also said it would be helpful for engineers who are seeking jobs in the future; since they’ve worked with their products before, they’re in a good position to get jobs with the sponsoring companies.
“It’s very interdisciplinary,” McDonald said. “There's a lot of steps we take to train and teach people for the skillsets you need to get involved in making an autonomous vehicle ... as long as you come with a passion to want to learn about it –– I’m from mechanical engineering, and I'm on the software integration team –– overcoming that curve is possible.”