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Autonomous Car Racing: DIT Students Prepare for 2019 NXP Cup Flavio Stiffan

Autonomous Car Racing: DIT Students Prepare for 2019 NXP Cup Theme Image

The build-up to this year’s NXP Cup EMEA has begun, and the Deggendorf Institute of Technology (DIT) is ready to do battle. The academic establishment has participated in this highly regarded event since 2015. Founded by NXP Semiconductors, this competition gives teams of engineering students the opportunity to construct and program autonomous racecars and then compete with each other on the track. A record 158 teams from high schools and universities representing 16 different countries within the EMEA region signed up to participate in the 2019 NXP Cup EMEA competition. In late January 2019, the 16 DIT teams presented their projects for qualification into the finals on March 27.

The prospective DIT teams labored tirelessly throughout the last semester, preparing their autonomous vehicles to perform during the four grueling challenges. With the stakes so high, many were quite nervous and looked to use the last couple of hours available to carry out the fine-tuning of their hardware and implement any software changes. The programming was done via either the Mbed™ platform or the MCUXpresso Integrated Development Environment (IDE), the latter proving to be most popular with the teams.

As part of its ongoing work to encourage new generations of engineers across the continent through involvement in numerous competition-oriented ventures, Mouser Electronics served as a key sponsor of the NXP Cup EMEA for the last two seasons. In 2019, Mouser Electronics became the official supplier of the car kits used by each of the student teams.

The basis of these kits is the NXP Freedom FRDM-KL25Z Board for Kinetis L series microcontrollers with ARM Cortex-M0+ processor cores. For these cars, a simple Complementary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor (CMOS) line scan camera supports the vision element.

The powertrain is comprised of a pair brushed electric motors, thereby giving students the chance to learn about electronic differential and motor-control techniques. As a default, every kit contains a 7.2V output 2500mAh Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery. However, participants can choose their battery, as long as the battery has a maximum 7.4V, with less than 3000mAh based on rechargeable Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd), NiMH or Li-Ion technologies. Lthium Polymer (LiPo)-based batteries are not allowed.

The Code for Speed team, along with the likes of Byte Rider, JT_Drive and Overtaker relied on the Model C version of the kit (Figure 1), while other teams, such as Burning Wheels, made use of the new Almak kit (Figure 2). Both these kits share the same 16mm wheelbase and have almost identical chassis dimensions, but Almak has a one-piece body, while the Model C has a segmented body.

Model C-based vehicle on a racetrack

Figure 1: Model C-based vehicle used by the Code for Speed team, Byte Rider, JT_Drive, and Overtaker teams. (Source: Author)

 

Alamak-based vehicle on a racetrack

Figure 2: Alamak-based vehicle used by the Burning Wheels team. (Source: Author)

Dealing with Project Pressures

With the pressure continuing to build, the students tested their cars on the three track layouts designed to assess obstacle avoidance and precision driving. After the students completed the three tracks, they moved on to a speed-control area where the car was required to dramatically decelerate in a given time period. The final test was a time trial on a racetrack in which the layout was not disclosed in advance. Some vehicles were able to reach up to speeds of 7kmph.

In some cases, such as the Burning Wheels team, students implemented a monitoring system for a real-time visual feed of what the CMOS camera ‘sees' with imaging data transferred back to an Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) display. From the monitoring system, the Burning Wheels team could derive valuable information in order to make adjustments to their driving algorithms. The team also decided that for the 3D-printed car chassis, it would be better to place the directing wheels at the back rather than the front. As team member Maximilian Seitz explained, it just gives the car a better turning radius and significantly improves accuracy.

With the event running from 08:00 until 14:00, the students had little time to rest or take a lunch break. Not only did their semester grades depend on the day's performance, but the day determined which teams would join a larger number of rival entrants from other universities in Munich. From there, the best performing teams will join those that qualified at NXP Cup events in the Czech Republic, France, Lebanon, Morocco, and Romania at the EMEA grand final, which will take place at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS (Fraunhofer IIS) in Erlangen, Germany on April 29-30.

The Path from Theory to Practice

The DIT teaching staff has been a major advocate of the NXP Cup—making this challenge an integral part of coursework in relation to embedded technology during the last few months. Here, students work in the lab and apply what they learned to the kits supplied by Mouser. Students are not only able to develop their practical electronics skills, but also gain valuable experience in keeping time schedules, task allocation, meeting deadlines, and working as part of a team. Competition supervisors dedicate themselves to maintaining student motivation, transferring engineering knowledge, and giving guidance when needed.

Building on the Future of Autonomous Driving

The DIT is proud of its NXP Cup legacy as well as its participation in other autonomous vehicle challenges. The institute’s wall of fame tells of considerable success over the last few years, with attendance at the EMEA finals in 2015 at the Politecnico di Torino in Italy, followed by reaching that stage again in 2018 when it was held at the Fraunhofer IIS. This time around, everyone is ready for the DIT team to become the EMEA champions and take the prize offered by NXP, which includes flying the winning team to the 2019 NXP Connect event in California. The NXP Connect event is an excellent opportunity for the students to discover more about the industry and make valuable contacts for the future.

In recognition of the impact that the NXP Cup competition had on students, the DIT inaugurated a new building. The DIT new building includes a lab designed to aid in the development of autonomous driving technology. The institute leverages the high demand for engineering talent in this sphere to increase the number of student recruits and prepare them for the future expectations of the rapidly evolving automotive industry.

So, we now move on to the next stage of the NXP Cup EMEA—the qualification event on March 27at Munich’s Gymnasium Kirchheim. The hope is that seven to nine of the DIT teams will be able to progress there. All eyes will then turn to the EMEA finals on April 29-30 at the Fraunhofer IIS.



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Flavio Stiffan joined the semiconductor industry in 1989 and assumed several global roles focusing on global project management and business development. He holds an equivalency of a bachelor’s in computer science and a master certificate in marketing strategy, branding, business management from Cornell University.

In 2016, he founded Stiffan Consulting as freelance marketing coach and digital content creator focusing on knowledge transfer activities, market strategy development and brand positioning. He is based in the Munich area (Germany).




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