UC San Diego students win 2nd place in nation-wide autonomous, electric go-kart race
|UC San Diego students with their autonomous go-kart at the evGrandPrix competition.|
June 6, 2022-- A team of engineering and data science students from UC San Diego came in 2nd place at the second annual autonomous, electric (EV) GrandPrix go-kart race hosted at Purdue University in May. Teams of students from around the country came together to race the autonomous electric go-karts they built over the year. These are not ordinary go-karts. Each electric vehicle sports autonomous perception, navigation, and control systems optimized for the race setting: a roughly one-third of a mile lap on the race track in the fastest time, all on its own.
The team also included several students from the University of Hawaii, and UC Berkeley. At UC San Diego, the force behind this project is the TritonAI student organization.
UC San Diego students qualified for the final round in 2021, the first year of the competition, and wound up taking third place. This year, the students made it back to the competition and won second place.
|Electrical engineering student Chaztine Embucado was on this year's evGrandPrix team.|
Chaztine Embucado, an electrical engineering student at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, was part of this year’s team. She shares how she got involved, and what the experience was like, in this Q&A:
How did you get involved with the autonomous evGrandPrix competition?
I study electrical engineering with a power engineering depth, and one of my major requirements is to do a senior design capstone class. In this class, we rank the available projects based on preference. Based on this ranking, our experience, and interest, we are assigned a project and I’m glad to have been placed in the one for this autonomous electric go-kart. So via this class I worked within the TritonAI team.
What was your role?
At the very beginning, it was to work with the MAE capstone team to choose a brushless DC motor for the go-kart. We were choosing between three different ones. The two requirements were that it can be controlled using the specific motor controller that we already had, and that it fit on the existing mount for the kart.
After conducting testing and choosing a motor, I was a little bit of a floater, soldering connectors and pins for backup components, making the cart look professional, basically cable and wire management to minimize clutter and maximize ease in future troubleshooting. The power distribution network was pretty much centralized at the back of the kart, but there were sensors, cameras, the GPS, etc. at the front of the kart so we needed wires that brought power from the back of the cart and brought it up to the front..
Had you been involved in similar projects before?
I was part of SEDS, and worked on the rocket engine test stand called Colossus. Through that I learned a lot about the power distribution system; being able to understand the organization of a system that has worked before, I think helped me in this case. It was exciting to be a part of the team to re-assemble the electronics panel and turn it on for the first time in a while. Leading up to that point I practiced a lot of practical skills and used tools I never have before, so I’m grateful for my time there.
I was also on the electrical team for Triton Racing and assisted in the wiring harness for the car. Making sure that the wires were long enough, twisting them correctly, and separating the branches appropriately for the sensors all around the car was tedious, but it was a good experience. I learned more about how much work goes into the details of power distribution and applied practical concepts of electronics, which was refreshing.
What was the competition itself like?
It was pretty exciting. It was cool to be in Indiana in general – even restaurants had racing flags put up outside, or an Indy 500 special for the next weekend. Even though it’s a competition, the environment with the other teams was so welcoming. One night when the track closed but everyone wanted to keep working, there was a specific library that allowed teams to bring their karts and test there. Kennesaw State University, who actually won, were so nice to us and said “You can work here right next to us, and you can use our lights.” Especially at the track, being able to see other teams’ karts and talk to them about their design choices and issues made it more of a transfer of knowledge than a cut-throat competition.
Any idea what you’ll do with your degree and this experience once you graduate?
I’m really interested in applying electrical engineering to motor sports, and I’m currently an intern at Honda Performance Development. I’ve been working with them on solar simulations to enable more solar power, since they’re working towards being carbon neutral. I’ve also been able to look into their power consumption and power generation.
Then in July, I have a one-year internship in the UK. Once I’ve done that I’ll have to finish some general education requirements before graduating.
Advice for current students?
I know it's hard, but try to not compare yourself to others. I think that was one of the things that pressured me a lot, because by the time I was a junior I hadn’t done an internship, and was just barely joining a student org. Sophomore year I was in the Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officer’s Training Corps) thinking that I would be set for the rest of college and after, but that didn’t work out. So even if something like that happens, or you find yourself in that kind of situation, it’s important to just keep moving forward and be confident in the steps that you are taking.
And also to the women engineers, or the women who are in STEM: you belong. Don’t let anyone say or make you feel that you don’t deserve your space. You do, and the peers who support you are worth leaning on because this is difficult. It’s not expected that you go through everything alone.
At the competition, we were the team with the most diversity and with the most women, and I think that gave me a lot of hope and confidence in this place I’m currently at. It was kind of the culmination of being a senior, and having to go through a lot of classes where there weren’t a lot of women, so it was a positive and full-circle experience to have such diversity on this team.
The TritonAI team’s sponsors include Honda Performance Development, DeepRacer, RoboSense, BrainCorp, Livox, the Jacobs School of Engineering Triton Engineering Student Council, and Viasat. Full list of sponsors: https://tritonai.org/sponsors/
Jacobs School of Engineering