Indiana University

Skip to:

  1. Search
  2. Breadcrumb Navigation
  3. Content
  4. Browse by Topic
  5. Services & Resources
  6. Additional Resources
  7. Multimedia News

Media Contacts

Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2008

Computer-guided golf cart to make Assembly Hall rounds

Dec. 15, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A touch of the keyboard or push of the joystick and massive dump trucks loaded with coal, giant combines harvesting soybeans, and aircraft observing landscapes do the work of a multitude of humans as software and satellite mesh together.

So why, wonder Indiana University professor Steven Johnson's computer science students, shouldn't the trip between Bloomington and Indianapolis be as simple as stepping into an elevator?


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

"We're moving from the day where robotic agents are controlled by humans to the day robotic agents are controlled by themselves," Johnson said. "We see it in our vehicles already with lane change sensors, wiper sensors, cars that watch the driver to be sure that you stay awake at the wheel."

Johnson's students on Wednesday will put robot navigation to the test in IU's Assembly Hall parking lot in a public display that serves as a grand finale to the professor's embedded and real-time systems course. On the menu are three hours of obstacle avoidance using global positioning sensors that coordinate latitude and longitude for a highly customized golf cart.

"We feel this type of research is important to participate in, for one reason, because of the position Indiana has with respect to the agriculture and transportation markets," Johnson said. "This area of embedded systems research is burgeoning."

The course began six years ago and the current laboratory exercise played out three years later after Johnson was inspired by the Grand Challenge, a U.S. Department of Defense-sponsored desert road race for unmanned vehicles. Johnson at the time helped a team from Indianapolis develop a vehicle for that race.

"We saw a lot of interest then, we learned a great deal, and we concluded that we needed a research effort here to test components of these systems," he said.

During the field tests students will not only implement embedded configurations that instruct the vehicle to move from point A to B, but also to sense obstacles in the way and then note the whereabouts of those objects for future reference. The applications are broad-ranging, researchers believe, and include study areas like vision, artificial intelligence, situated cognition, informatics and learning systems.

And even though guests at the field trials will see a person seated in the passenger side of the hybridized golf cart, the parking lot trials are facilitated completely by the designs of and implementation by Johnson's students.

"During our public demonstrations you'll always see a guy sitting there as a safety precaution," he said. "He's holding a 'dead man's switch' just in case. As you might imagine, safety is a big topic in this course."

The demonstrations will be conducted from 1-4 p.m., weather permitting, on Wednesday in the parking lot north of Assembly Hall off of Fee Lane.

To speak with Steven Johnson, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or