The big national grants just keep rolling in for UM-Dearborn researchers. One of the latest is poised to have a broad impact across the engineering and computer science programs. According to the grant summary, a team of five faculty have been approved to “acquire an Autonomous Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle research platform to support collaborative and multidisciplinary research and education activities in several areas, including embodied cognitive vehicle, in-vehicular network security, energy consumption, environmental perception, cybersecurity, and driver behavior analyses in electric and advanced mobilities.” Translation: We’re getting funding to buy a fully programmable, road legal autonomous vehicle that will enable our faculty and student researchers to do all kinds of things they’ve never been able to do before.
Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and principal investigator Jaerock Kwon says they hope to finalize their order for a specially equipped Chrysler minivan from Rochester Hills-based Dataspeed in the coming months. That could put the vehicle on campus later this year or early next year. The van will be loaded with a full suite of sensors needed for fully autonomous driving, including advanced optical cameras and a lidar system for creating 360-degree maps of the surrounding environment. One of the things that’s cool about this particular vehicle is that it won’t require a bunch of clunky hardware add-ons. Kwon says typically when researchers adapt standard model vehicles for autonomous driving, they have to install third-party actuators to mimic a driver’s physical interactions with the car (e.g. turning the steering wheel, or depressing the brake or accelerator pedals). This vehicle doesn’t need any of that. Instead, it will use a “drive by wire” kit, which will allow commands to be sent directly to the vehicle's internal computer systems. From a mechanical and programming perspective, it’s much more elegant. Plus, it more closely approximates the likely anatomy of the AVs that will come to market in the future.