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Last modified: Monday, April 23, 2007

Where the rubber meets the road: IU computer science students test robotic vehicle

April 23, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Fueled by curiosity and powered by computer technology, students at the Indiana University School of Informatics are poised to test drive a class project using unmanned vehicles.

Three groups of computer science graduate students will demonstrate and analyze their development of autonomous Global Positioning System navigation of a computer controlled vehicle on the IU Bloomington campus Wednesday (April 25). The exercise is part of the class' final exam for the Department of Computer Science's Embedded and Real-time Systems course.

"This vehicle -- a modified golf cart -- provides a hands-on way to learn what autonomous robotics is all about," said instructor Steven D. Johnson, professor of computer science. "The project is a platform for education in embedded systems aimed for research in both computer system design and artificial intelligence in robotics."


This modified golf cart, outfitted with autonomous Global Positioning System navigation, represents part of a final exam for computer science graduate students at IU.

The vehicle navigator is programmed and fitted with GPS sensors, connecting it with signals for low-orbiting satellites. It uses real-time information together with a pre-loaded list of waypoints to guide steering and speed.

The vehicle was developed and programmed by the computer science faculty and technical staff members Bryce Himebaugh and Caleb Hess, with assistance from Danko Antolovic, a research scientist with the Advanced Networking Lab at the IU-based Pervasive Technology Labs.

"Platforms such as this advance research collaborations across the field of informatics, computer sciences, cognitive science and other disciplines," Johnson said.

Each of the three student teams will demonstrate its navigation solutions for both a pre-published course and a "blind" course revealed to them at the time of testing.

The testing ground, made available by the IU Athletics Department, is in the parking lot between Assembly Hall and the Tennis Pavilion on 17th Street.


Three teams of computer science graduate students will demonstrate their development of autonomous Global Positioning System navigation of a modified golf cart Wednesday (April 25).

The navigator project was inspired by IU's involvement with the Indy Robotics entry in the DARPA Grand Challenge, "Race Across the Desert," spearheaded by Indianapolis inventor and entrepreneur Scott A. Jones. The Grand Challenge is a Department of Defense-sponsored field test to accelerate the research and development of robotic vehicles for military use.

"I strongly believe that as a transportation and agriculture center, Indiana has a big stake in autonomous vehicles for use in the commercial sector," said Johnson. "Many farm implements and construction vehicles already use GPS to perform their work. And, of course, an increasing number of personal vehicles have increasingly sophisticated GPS-based instruments, some of which give on-the-fly directions."

For more information about the project, go to Images of earlier field trials of the robotic can be viewed at