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.

Luke Baird’s REU at Wichita State University

This past summer, I attended an REU at Wichita State University in Kansas. I originally heard about the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in an email from Dr. Ed Post, advertising the REU in Cyber-physical systems, along with several other REUs. REUs are summer research internship programs at different universities throughout the country funded by the National Science Foundation in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. With the support of several professors in the Electrical Engineering department at Embry-Riddle, I was readily accepted into the program.

A view of the dorm Shocker Hall at WSU.

Before, I had zero experience whatsoever with research, however, the program provided a smooth introduction to it. My work schedule was super laid-back. Once a week, I would meet with the program coordinator for different workshops discussing topics such as how to apply to graduate school, what is expected in research, and how to present research findings effectively. Also, I met weekly with my faculty mentor regarding the specific research in which I was involved. As a result, I needed to employ a lot of self-discipline. Thankfully, I formed good study habits at Embry-Riddle that I applied at the REU.

When I was in high school, I had a job with a marketing company developing mobile apps. Based on this work experience, the program coordinator paired me with a project in the field of Android cybersecurity. It was my task to research and develop a set of tools to determine if a given app on the Android platform is hiding in different lists on a device.

At a poster session featuring my work with Android.

One of my favorite things about Kansas is that the people there are remarkably hospitable. Within days, I had the opportunity to make friends both with other REU interns and with several local residents through a college group and a local church. This was a huge blessing as I did not have a car in Kansas.

Towards the end of the REU, I had the opportunity to visit Hutchinson, KS where NASA’s Cosmosphere is located. Their lobby is built around a SR-71 Blackbird banked 30 degrees for its turn to final.

Beside an SR-71 Blackbird at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS

One of the coolest things that I got to see there was the original Apollo 13 space capsule, reassembled after different parts toured the world for many years. It was particularly interesting to see the history of rockets from World War II through the space race. As an American, I was quite unfamiliar with the German and Russian history which was covered extensively and honestly in the museum.

Currently, I am finishing up the paper that was mostly completed during the REU. It is wonderful to be able to show a completed paper at the end of a program, especially as an undergraduate. I went from not knowing a thing about research to having a finished paper. My mentor and I are submitting the paper to a conference which I will hear from by the end of the month.

To any students who are interested in research—I would highly recommend an REU, especially for Sophomores as REUs accept Sophomores far more readily than industry internships do. There was even an intern who had only completed his freshmen year who was accepted! I am thankful for Embry-Riddle making this wonderful opportunity possible for me this summer!

The Missouri River in Kansas City, MO

Making Graphene Composites Thanks to URI

Trupti I’m Trupti Mahendrakar from Bangalore, India. Exploring and innovating is my passion. I joined Riddle in Fall 2015. Since then till now, I was encouraged and motivated to do what I like. Professor’s here are so helpful. The entire institution makes me feel at home. My first semester here, I came up with an idea of making Graphene based composites. Later, I got to know that the University encourages and funds student researches through Ignite or Undergraduate Research Institute (URI). All I had to do was to find a Professor who can help me with my project and find a group of people who are interested. Thus, I started Alternate Composite Team (ACT).

Here’s a little information about Graphene. It is a new material discovered in 2004. It is known for its extraordinary chemical and physical properties. Also, it is an allotrope of carbon. Embry-Riddle made is possible for me to work on this amazing material and pursue my goal in making graphene based composites for aircrafts and rockets. To know more about my project, feel free to email me at mahendrt@my.erau.edu

Here are some pictures of me and my team working. It may not look fun but remember “Appearance can be deceptive.” So come on over and try it yourself.

Trupti

Trupti 3

Engineering skills!

Final product of the first part of ACT

Final product of the first part of ACT

 

 

LIGO Proved Gravitational Waves Exist and I Helped!

Sophia interferometers (002)Well the cat’s out of the bag: the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Collaboration, or the LIGO Collaboration, has detected and confirmed the existence of gravitational waves.  Finally, I don’t have to giggle to myself as my friends ask why I am doing research on a project that had such a small chance of success.  Finally, I don’t have to keep secret about one of the biggest discoveries in the modern science, something I have known about since September when it was detected.  It is an exciting time, not just to see the amazing results of a project that I am a small, insignificant part of, but also because that means that a completely new field of research has just opened up, gravitational wave astronomy.

Gravitational wave

Gravitational wave

First, let me explain a bit about gravitational waves, if you haven’t already seen the countless videos.  Gravitational waves were first predicted by Einstein in 1916 when he formulated the idea of general relativity.

Blackhole

Blackhole

Collision

Collision

In essence, they are the perturbations, or ripples, in the fabric of space and time.  They are emitted from massive systems, like coalescing two black holes converging and merging into one, which is actually what LIGO detected, or giant cataclysms like supernovae.  They are a confirmation of a theory we have been using for a century, but they are also a new tool we can use to probe the universe.  As the comparison goes, “As Galileo’s telescope opened our eyes to the universe, gravitational waves have opened our ears.”

The best part is that I can be a part of the research during this era of discovery, even though I am only an undergraduate student.  Embry-Riddle is a host to many esteemed faculty that do research and encourage their students to do research, and there is an entire department dedicated to student research in the form of the Undergraduate Research Institute run by Dr. Anne Boettcher.  In fact, three professors in the physics department – Dr. Michele Zanolin, Dr. Brennan Hughey, and Dr. Andri Gretarsson – are involved in the LIGO experiment, and actually are the only scientists in the whole Four Corners area (Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado) that are pursuing this research.

Research for undergraduate students is incredibly important, but also highly demanding.  I work ten hours a week, reading papers on high-level statistics, writing proofs, learning to code, and analyzing data.  It requires a lot of concentration and persistence, especially since I have had to learn a completely new set of skills and knowledge.  And it means that as a student, I have to take initiative and follow through on something I am not receiving a grade for.  But in the end, I don’t regret it, since I was able to sit in the conference room at 8:30 am and watch the live press release of something amazing.  Since I was able to be a part of something bigger than I was.  Since I have learned so much about something so fascinating that otherwise I would have known nothing about.  And in the end, we discovered gravitational waves!Sophia

Sophia Schwalbe is a Junior in Space Physics, in Air Force ROTC and the Honors Program, and has participated in research with LIGO.

Fall 2015. Senior Year. Capstone. Yes!

Hey there fellow students/potential students here’s an update on how my first month back has been! So, as you know, I am a senior in Aerospace Engineering and this semester I am working on the Preliminary Aircraft Design course of my Capstone Project. It has been pretty fun so far but is definitely hard. The courses you take prior to the capstone do help out a lot in your preparation for designing an entire aircraft from scratch. But really how cool is that — an entire aircraft from scratch!

I am also continuing to pursue the research I was working on over the summer. Hopefully, the data processing will allow us to write a paper on the research. If we are able to write it then I am hoping that the project will help me in my professional career in the Air Force.

Yes, I am in ROTC here and it rocks!!ROTC I am in my fourth year and I have the position of female cadet retention in the detachment. It is super fun because I get to meet cool female cadets, encourage, advise, and PT with them!

That’s pretty much all that I’ve been up to this semester so far, keep checking my blog for more updates, fun, facts, and useful info! If you have any questions for me please feel free to comment below 🙂