The University of Southampton

Undergraduate students’ autonomous racing car speeds into international NXP Cup final

Published: 12 April 2017
ECS students test the 'Soton GT' racer at their University laboratory

An autonomous racing car created by Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) undergraduate students from the University of Southampton has qualified for the final of an intercontinental intelligent racing competition.

The ‘Soton GT’ team, which built its high speed vehicle in a fourth year undergraduate group project, will now face rivals from Europe, the Middle East and Africa later this month at the EMEA NXP Cup in Munich, Germany.

Electrical and Electronic Engineering MEng students Lawrence Harlow and Owen Johnson and Computer Science MEng student Adam Piekarski entered their car into a Qualification Event in Leeds on Wednesday 29th March, finishing in second with a time of 20.4 seconds.

“We’ve had our eyes set on this competition since our group project started in September,” Team Leader Lawrence explained. “We’re thrilled to reach the final and can’t wait to set a fast time in Munich. The brief has been to create an autonomous racer the size of a radio controlled car. You hear a lot about Tesla and Google’s self-driving cars in the news, so it’s been fascinating to take one footstep into that area.”

The Soton GT racer, which is 295mm in length and weighs 1098g, has been programmed to guide itself along a white track at speeds of up to 4m per second. It must negotiate a race layout that is unknown to competitors until the day of the event and includes chicanes, bumps, crossroads and a tunnel.

“Everyone has really enjoyed the challenge of developing the software and control system to navigate the track,” Lawrence added. “I’ve really liked having the opportunity to utilise the engineering knowledge we’ve built up during our degree alongside a platform for project management. It’s been quite a learning experience to work in a group as you can all develop your elements simultaneously but everything has to then work together.”

The students’ autonomous racer is directed by a line scan camera, which monitors the black edges of the track to trigger a steering mechanism and motor differential. The team added speed sensors and a camera feed as they sought to improve speed and cornering during the project, improving a lap time on a University test track from 20 to nine seconds.

“We’ve developed the car to adapt to its environment as it needed to deal with changing parameters – such as light levels – to optimise performance,” Lawrence explained. “At one point it was power sliding around corners! We actually set it at a lower speed in the qualification round so it would definitely handle the features and qualify.”

The fourth year group project, which also included MEng students Robin Taylor and Max Stenham, has been supervised by Professor Kirk Martinez of the Web and Internet Science research group in ECS.

The EMEA NXP Cup final will take place in Munich on the 27th and 28th of April and include competitors from qualification events in Germany, France, Romania, Czech Republic, Morocco and the UK.

Pictured above: (left to right) Lawrence Harlow, Robin Taylor, Adam Piekarski, Owen Johnson, Max Stenham

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