High School Students Get Up to Speed in STEM at Autonomous Vehicle Challenge

Monday, March 18, 2019
Student competitors watch as autonomous vehicles navigate a track

More than 150 students from high schools in four states became engineers for a day while testing their autonomous vehicles on oval, clover and random race tracks in this year’s competition on campus.

They may have learned elements of future automotive technology, but it was the skills of good old-fashioned engineering that paved the way for high school students from four states to navigate their way through this year’s Rose-Hulman Autonomous Vehicle Challenge.

The competition tested students’ abilities to solve problems and work together to design, build and test miniature autonomous vehicles that use a microcontroller and sensors to complete oval-, clover- and random-figure race tracks spread across the fieldhouse at the college’s Sports and Recreation Center.

“This competition is engineering at its very core and the kids just love it,” said physics teacher Charles Mamolo of Pope John Paul II High School, from Hendersonville, Tenn. “We practice for worst-case scenarios so that the students don’t panic in any situation.”

That practice came in handy when the school’s two-member Knights team experienced a main microcontroller failure after being the top-ranked team in the qualification rounds of the competition.

“Our car was on life support, big time. We came too far to lose like this,” admitted senior Ian Dilick, who teamed with junior PB Mamolo on the project.

Fortunately, all of the vital software programming from the failed microcontroller was successfully transferred, and accepted, into new system for the car – just in time for the event’s final round of races.

And, in true heroic fashion, the Knights went onto place first in the oval and random races to tie the Unicum Nomen team, consisting of three Pope John Paul II schoolmates, for the overall championship. That team consisting of sophomores Eli Lockert, Kehan Patel and Nolan Patton placed first in the clover races, was second on the random track (filled with a combination of twists, turns and straight sections) and third on the oval course.

Terre Haute South High School’s Botsquad placed third overall in the competition that consisted of 32 teams from 13 schools in Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee and Texas. The event has grown in popularity from 26 students on three teams during the first year in 2016.

The students created simplified versions of advanced technology vehicles using tools developed by computing software developer MathWorks and the international semiconductor firm NXP. Then, they implemented engineering processes from Ford Motor Company. All three companies have co-sponsored the event since its beginning. These corporate sponsors and Rose-Hulman hope the competition attracts high school students to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Marc Herniter, professor of electrical and computer engineering who developed Rose-Hulman’s autonomous vehicle challenge, said, “These high school students are getting to work on something that real engineers are doing today on a much bigger scale. Electric vehicles are already today’s technology and autonomous cars aren’t too far away from becoming a reality.”

Barry Lucas, an engineering and robotics teacher at the Clayton-Bradley Academy, from Maryville, Tenn., added, “The lessons learned in this competition fit in perfectly with our school’s STEM education curriculum. The learning component with this project was so incredible for our students in the classroom. Getting to this competition was just icing on the cake.”

This year’s competition results were:

Overall Standings:
1. Pope John Paul II High School Knights, Hendersonville, Tenn.
1. Pope John Paul II High School Unicum Nomen, Hendersonville, Tenn.
3. South Vigo High School Botsquad, Terre Haute, Ind.

Oval Track Races:
1. Pope John Paul II High School Knights, Hendersonville, Tenn.
2. Pope John Paul II High School Junior Team 2/Electric Boogaloo, Hendersonville, Tenn.
3. Pope John Paul II High School Unicum Nomen, Hendersonville, Tenn.

Clover Track Races:
1. Pope John Paul II High School Unicum Nomen, Hendersonville, Tenn.
2. Pope John Paul II High School Junior Team 2/Electric Boogaloo, Hendersonville, Tenn.
3. South Vigo High School Botsquad, Terre Haute, Ind.

Random Track Races:
1. Pope John Paul II High School Knights, Hendersonville, Tenn.
2. Pope John Paul II High School Unicum Nomen, Hendersonville, Tenn.
3. South Vigo High School Botsquad, Terre Haute, Ind.

Other participating high schools this year came from:

Indiana
Attica Junior-Senior High School, Attica
Clay City Junior-Senior High School, Clay City
Martinsville High School, Martinsville
Northview High School, Brazil
Riverton Parke Junior-Senior High School, Montezuma
Terre Haute North Vigo High School, Terre Haute
Rose-Hulman Home Team, Terre Haute

Illinois
Lane Tech High School, Chicago

Tennessee
Clayton-Bradley Academy, Maryville

Texas
James Martin High School, Arlington
Marshall High School, Marshall

Launch Root Quad