By Kiel Watson, Student Life Editor
When you think of competitive teams at the university, the first things to spring to mind are likely sports such as football, basketball, or volleyball. Venture into the lab space in the IAVS building and you will discover a whole different world of college competition involving race-cars and robots, where instead of muscle, memory and fitness competitions are won with computer science and engineering.
Due to the design-and-build nature of the club a steady stream of funds and equipment are necessary for the students to be able to travel to competitions and build their entries. According to club president Brendan Ferracciolo some of their budget comes from the College of Engineering, but they also receive donations of money and equipment from groups such as Ford Motor Company. In addition to the routine funding and donations, the club has another way to boost the budget: beating the competition in a series of cutthroat competitions.
The Intelligent Systems Club (ISC) is one of several student organizations on campus that enter engineering design competitions. Generally the top winners of such competitions receive a cash prize or grant to fund the continued research and development of their projects. Many of these events such as the ION Autonomous Snowplow Competition take place annually, allowing the teams to improve their designs through trial and experience to return for the next year. The ION competition is entering into its seventh year, and the ISC will be sending two teams including Yeti, the adorable self-driving snow plow with large googly eyes.
Yeti has won two competitions in the past, including last year when the team made its annual trip to compete against other teams from around the nation. When asked about the impact the competitions have had on his time at U of M Dearborn Ferracciolo said, “ I’ve learned a lot in regards to taking a long term passion project from start to finish with a team of other students who also care enough to do this in their free time. The upcoming autonomous snowplow competition is a great example of this, where about a dozen of us are going to be spending about 6 days out of the winter semester driving up to St. Paul, Minn. and competing in a competition we’ve spent months preparing for because we enjoy doing it. “
While the snow plow competition is next on the agenda for the club, there are several other events they will be participating in such as the 26th annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition. At the IGVC, which will be hosted next year at Oakland University, vehicles must navigate obstacle courses using an array of sensors with no input from the operators.
Taking place in a more exotic locale, the team will be traveling to Hanksville, Utah for the University Rover Challenge. The unique geography of the area closely approximates the surface of Mars, and is also the home of the private Mars Desert Research Station. The similarities of the stark desert terrain to the red planet have led to the area being used for research by various scientific organisations including NASA, to study topics such as astrobiology, robotic exploration, and simulated Mars missions complete with a two-story Mars Lander Habitat for the crew to live and work in Matt Damon-style. During the rover competition, challenges include real world problems such as long range communications with the vehicle and the ability of the rover to withstand the rough drop that comes with being deployed to the martian surface.
While the club is primarily staffed by engineering and computer science majors, Ferracciolo said all majors are welcome to join given that the administration aspects of the club are more suited to majors such as business and marketing. If you would like to see what the members of the club are capable of without traveling off campus, come to the cardboard boat race during homecoming later this month and see if their engineering prowess gives them the edge they need to win.