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UMN team to participate in Autonomous Snowplow Competition

Snowplow team

From left to right: Casey, Arthur, Ken, Nick, and Meghna conduct field tests right outside Akerman Hall.

The 3rd Annual Autonomous Snowplow Competition (ASC) will be held from January 24-27. The goal of the competition is to challenge students to design, build, and operate a fully autonomous snowplow. This year, the University of Minnesota team is comprised of six students - Binh Bui, Arthur Lace, Ken Kruchten, and Casey Swanhorst, all AEM seniors; Nick Grieme, an electrical engineering graduate student; and Meghna Subramani, an electrical engineering junior. The students joined the team due to their interest in control systems, navigation, and solving difficult engineering problems. AEM professor Demoz Gebre-Egziabher serves as the team’s faculty mentor.

Last year the 2012 UMN “Blizzard Buster I” team had reliability issues with their snowplow system, which prevented the plow from being able to complete the courses for the 2nd Annual ASC. This year the team focused on troubleshooting system issues and creating a robust navigation and control algorithms. The goal was to implement and test the system to be compatible with the new competition rules, including the new double straight ‘I’-shaped course.

Snowplow Testing

Ken (left) and Casey (right) testing the wires for broken connections.

The 2012-2013 University of Minnesota autonomous snowplow vehicle is 1.5 m in length, 0.7 m wide and 0.9 m tall. It is powered by a 48 volt battery setup, and has a plow 1.2 m wide. The vehicle uses a sweeping laser range finder to identify markers placed on the sides and ends of the course. The guidance system uses this information to orient the vehicle accordingly using two servo motors. LabVIEW software was used to guide the snowplow through the course, and the system is able to navigate and clear both the single straight ‘I’-shaped and double straight ‘I’-shaped courses.

The system uses a SICK™ laser range finder or LIDAR for navigation. This same navigation scheme was used during the 2012 and 2011 competitions. The LIDAR is an alternative to GPS or sonar navigation. It was determined to be more reliable in a city environment, where GPS navigation tends to fail. Once system improvements were finalized, the rest of the time before the competition was spent testing and debugging problems.

The competition is made possible by the sponsorship of the Institute of Navigation. The competition will be held in the competition snowfields in front of the St. Paul Reference Library in Saint Paul.

The Richard and Shirley DeLeo Scholarship & Engineering Fund provided financial support for students to participate in the Autonomous Snowplow Competition (ASC).

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Last Modified: Tuesday, 07-May-2013 14:39:48 CDT -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation