Research Opportunity for Undergraduates in Autonomous Vehicles

by Andrea Gray

This past summer I was privileged to work as an undergraduate on a National Science Foundation funded research project at Wright State University. This research program was focused on autonomous vehicles and split up the 11 participants into 4 separate teams working on specific research and development projects under the general topic of autonomous vehicles.

I was on a team with another undergraduate student studying Electrical Engineering working on developing a forward collision detection and avoidance system in autonomous ground vehicles using LiDAR and IBM’s 90nm CMOS technology. As a Software Engineering student, the focus of circuit creation and design was not something I was familiar with, but luckily, I had a wonderful teammate and supervisor, along with the experiences I have had at Embry-Riddle, I was able to learn and be successful in my work.

LiDAR is growing in popularity with autonomous ground vehicles due to their ability to function in adverse weather conditions (comparative to a camera) and their recent decrease in cost. The 90nm CMOS, Complimentary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor, is being used along with the LiDAR because it is a low-power and low-space solution that can also produce the necessary performance needed to make rapid decisions for the system. This LiDAR system, being low-energy and high-performance, is a development that is highly valued in the autonomous ground vehicle field. While there are many teams performing research and development for systems such as this one, there is no system that has been adopted by commercial or professional companies as there is still a lot to be perfected in the systems and costs can still be too high. This is where our research shows its value, since LiDAR is rapidly dropping in price and our system is based on dependability, our final design and report should be very useful for others in the field after presented at a technical conference at the end of this year.

For the development of this system, we first designed the basic circuitry logic in MATLAB. This process was where I was able to take the lead from my previous MATLAB and Simulink experience and develop a basic functional forward collision detection and prevention system. From there, we exported the circuit into a software platform called Cadence. Cadence allows for circuit development that meets the specific specifications and functionalities of particular technologies per their manufacturer’s specifications. My teammate, being familiar with Cadence, took over the circuitry design while I did more research on issues that would need to be mitigated with LiDAR systems such as the detection of the return LiDAR pulse off of obstacles with poor reflectivity rates (i.e. matte black bar bumpers). My teammate navigated the complex Cadence design process, with my research inputs, and we were able to successfully create our final circuitry system for a forward collision detection and prevention system for an autonomous ground vehicle.

By the end of the 3 months, I had gained a large understanding of autonomous ground vehicles, their history, and their future. I produced a background report, multiple progress reports on the technology we designed with their setbacks and future plans, and I am currently working on the final report of the project, along with my teammate, which is planned to be published into a conference by the end of the year. Along with knowledge gained on the topic, I learned an immense amount about perfecting my time management skills, my teamwork abilities, and, a vital skill for engineers, the ability to create a professional technical report that is well-organized and well-written all while being completed under a strict time constraint. I am very grateful for not only this experience, but also for the knowledge gained during it and the knowledge I was able to utilize from my academic career at Embry-Riddle.

My Summer Internship as a Software Developer for Compassion International

This summer I got to intern with Compassion International as a Software Developer. The Software Engineering (SE) program at ERAU taught me a wide range of skills, so I didn’t really know where to start looking for internships. I applied anywhere and everywhere from large aviation companies to small tech startups. Along the way I realized that the things I had learned went far beyond just academics. While the SE program has provided me with the necessary skills to be prepared for industry, I have learned professional and interpersonal skills through communicating with professors and being an RA. I started to seek positions that would compliment that. I wanted to find something that combined the experience I have had academically with something community driven and people focused. That’s when I found Compassion International.

At the entrance to Compassion International in Colorado Springs.

Compassion is a Christian global non-profit ranked in the top 15 U.S. charities. Their goal is to sustainably release children from poverty. The organization is currently working in 25 nations (Bangladesh, Colombia, Kenya etc.)  with over 2 million children in the sponsorship program at 7500 centers. Compassion also partners globally with 11 countries (England, Australia, Italy, etc.) to provide sponsorship and funding. Sponsors can communicate via letters directly to their sponsor child and the funds they provide go straight to the church and Compassion Center that the child is a part of. Compassion Centers are in poverty-stricken communities and run by local church leaders where a child is fed, clothed, and educated. The goal is to support children in the program from a young age through college/trade school to help break the cycle of physical and emotional poverty.

Exploring Colorado

The role of the USA office in Colorado Springs where I was an intern, is to support the sponsors, children, and centers. This support includes everything from finance management and marketing, to IT infrastructure and data processing including development of education curriculum for each country and a technology system to allow safe communication between countries. I worked as a Developer on an IT team to build an internal application for the global programs and travel department. The team I was a part of does pair programming and Test-Driven Development, so I spent a good portion of the summer building automated user interface testing and working together with other interns. The classes that I had taken in Software Quality Assurance and Analysis and Design of Software Systems were so helpful during the project. It was exciting to know that while I was growing my skills professionally, the application I helped to build has tangible and real effects beyond my personal role at the organization.

Impact Session with the President of Compassion – Santiago ‘Jimmy’ Mellado.

The internship at Compassion was well rounded and amounted to more than just a job. Part of the program is a field visit so I spent a week visiting the Compassion Guatemala National Office and visiting the children there. The purpose of this trip was to provide us with context and into the work that is done in the field and how it relates to the daily office work in the states. In the US Office, I was poured into each week professionally and personally. I learned how work really is more than a title and a set of tasks. An effective workplace is one that cares as much about the person’s individual growth as they do about the progress they make. I was placed with a host family to live with as well as with a mentor in the organization to meet with weekly and seek professional and personal guidance. Each week we had “Impact Sessions” with the executives such as the current and former CEOs of the organization, the Vice President of Marketing and Engagement (formerly responsible for stuffed crust pizza at Pizza Hut), Vice President of Human Resources (instrumental in the formation of Blockbuster Video, Einstein Bros., and Boston Market). These sessions each week were to expose us to different life lessons and career paths and to learn from their incredible experiences. The program was also designed for the interns to become a close community. Every second outside of the office was spent exploring nearby cities and climbing Colorado mountains until we felt like a family.

A Compassion sponsor child watching as the intern team built his family a new house.
Visiting the home of a Compassion Family in Coba, Guatemala

I could not have imagined a better place to be an intern. ERAU provided me with both the personal and technical skills in order to succeed this summer.

Compassion Summer 2019 Interns after receiving news that we are one of the top 100 internships in the U.S.

Opportunities with Honors

I’m Alexis Hepburn from Lake Stevens, Washington. For the past three years at Embry-Riddle, I have devoted myself to engagement with my campus community through mentorship, leadership, and research. As an Honors Program student on the research track, I have been able to cultivate my newly formed skills as a future Aerospace Engineer. The Embry-Riddle staff and faculty foster an environment of academic rigor, engaging hands-on experiences, and the potential to grow personally and professionally. The Embry-Riddle family continually rises to the challenge of providing the optimal undergraduate career.

In the late spring of 2018, I contacted Dr. Daniel White in order to pursue a potential mentor relationship. His experience in electric propulsion both in industry and an academic setting supported and aligned with my longtime interests. Upon our first interaction, he encouraged me to visit his office so we could begin a research project of our own. I was amazed at his openness and enthusiasm to teach me the things that I’d been missing, having previously been solely dependent on scholarly literature. With his assistance, we began working on a single-stage bismuth fed stationary plasma thruster.

A stationary plasma thruster is a form of electric propulsion used most often on satellites for long duration missions. The fuel source is usually an inert gas which is heated to the point of becoming a plasma. The engine operates via energizing and ejecting the plasma with help from the Hall Effect, which describes the relationship between an electric and a magnetic field. 

Work station

After a few short weeks of preliminary work sessions filled with whiteboard ‘chicken scratch’, spreadsheet configurations, and computer-generated models, we were ready to submit our proposal to the Undergraduate Research Institute (URI). URI is an unparalleled resource for students because it allows them to pursue their research interests in a supportive and resource-laden environment.

3D Model of the assembled engine

The Embry-Riddle professors are confident in their students and therefore, Dr. White encouraged me to submit our preliminary design to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) national Energy and Propulsion Forum in August. Upon acceptance to this conference, I will now have the opportunity to present and publish my research among some of the industry’s leaders. I will have the context to grow my network, represent my university, and display my work among future colleagues.

One of the benefits to Honors Program students is that we are invited to apply for awards, fellowships, and scholarships through the National Collegiate Honors Council. This year, I was thankful to have been accepted as a 2019 Portz Interdisciplinary Fellowship recipient, where I will seek to address the potential improvements for miniaturized Hall thrusters for long duration satellite missions.

I owe much of my success and appreciation to my mentor, Dr. White, who has continuously gone above and beyond during the planning and development of this research. I would also like to thank the Honors Program Director, Dr. Boettcher for her continued interest in my success which was often delivered in well-timed encouragement and constructive critiques. Finally, this would not have been possible without the patience and diligence of the machinists, rapid prototyping lab technicians, research librarians, and the College of Engineering administrators.

Find me on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexis-hepburn

Junior Year Studying Electrical Engineer at ERAU

As you may already know I am currently a Junior at Embry-Riddle, Prescott campus studying Electrical Engineering. Today I will go into the awesome classes I am currently taking to give you an idea of what to look forward to in studying this field of engineering.

First off as Electrical engineers there are many different areas of expertise to get into, which means that as an undergraduate you will get a little taste of everything. so whether you like power or not doesn’t quite matter yet because you will take a power class anyway. This serves to our benefit though as it allows you to better understand what you would personally enjoy as a career.

So as far as I have come today I am currently taking; Signal Processing plus the lab, Electronic Devices plus the lab, Math for engineers with physics, and Computer Science 1 (a.k.a. C programming). Although we have just started the semester I personally enjoy the Electronic Devices class the most, so that is what I will go a little in to depth with next.

In Electronic Devices we will be getting into electronic circuits, such as an Integrated circuit compared to Discrete components. We will also get into Amplifier frequency response, Diodes, Transistors, and Feedback systems, although there is so much more I can talk about this is just a brief description. (Note: if you click on the link to electronic devices, it will take you to Wikipedia, yes I know you may be skeptical about Wiki. but it has a diverse amount of knowledge about the subject so feel free to take a look).

The reason I believe I enjoy this class in particular is because it is taught in a top down design, meaning you see the big picture of each little component first so you can really see how everything comes together.

So Far So Good

Hello readers, if you do not know already I am a current freshman at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Prescott Campus, and in this blog i will be catching you all up on what i have done all year long in terms of classes, clubs, Air Force ROTC, and more. First off I am going for my Electrical Engineering degree, as well as being a cadet in Air Force ROTC and have so far enjoyed the beginning of my career here.

The first semester, the first semester was pretty difficult because of the transition away from home, but class wise i was not taking anything difficult. Basic classes such as calculus, history, physics, as well as engineering 101, and Air Force 101. These classes are the main classes you will most likely have. I did get home sick for a period of time, but eventually that passed and I got used to living at school. The things I have missed the most were my dogs and home cooked food.

After the first semester i began to realize, this is it, the real deal. So once the second semester came around, I was well prepared. This semester I have taken Calculus 2, Physics 2, Engineering 115 aka (MATLAB), Humanities, and Air Force class 102. Although i am still not into the difficult classes yet i feel more prepared then i was at the end of last semester. My roommates and I enjoy going to the movie theater on the weekends, hikes, and out to eat, there are plenty of great restaurants in town, i suggest going into town and exploring, they have some interesting stores.

Now throughout the year I have been involved in many organizations, and activities in town and on campus. This past weekend i went into town for a chalk festival, held annually, this event is awesome and lots of fun. I also participated in the human society’s dog walk on campus. I am also a part of AFROTC Honor Guard and have done many performance in town as well as out of town. If you plan on joining AFROTC I highly suggest joining one of the teams in Honor Corps, such as Sabre, Rifle Drill, and Honor Guard.

 

The campus is easy to navigate getting to class in about 5 min is really nice. One of my favorite pass times is going to the gym on campus, and hiking across the street.

Hopefully you enjoyed my blog, if you want any more information feel free to let me know.