LAKELAND, Fla. – The technology behind self-driving cars is coming to life soon at Florida Polytechnic University.
A brand new course called “Autonomous Systems and Self-Driving Vehicles” starts in the Spring 2017 semester. Dr. Dean Bushey, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel with more than 10 years of experience developing and advancing autonomous systems, will teach the course. Dr. Bushey will partner with professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston where the same course will be taught during the Spring semester. MIT professors will provide video conferencing lectures to Florida Poly students.
“This is the future of transportation, so we’re preparing students to be comfortable in this new world and to be ready to advance it,” said Dr. Bushey, who serves as Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Information Technology.
The course breaks students into groups of five to upgrade a small race car. They’ll start with learning basic motion control, then advance to object detection. These building blocks will take students through the final phases as the cars learn to map a course and finally race against each other at the end of the semester. By the end of the semester, the cars will be capable of independently following a yellow line, stopping at a red light and stopping for sudden obstacles.
Excitement for the course is building, with fifteen students already signed up.
“Hands-on learning is one of the key foundations of this institution,” said Florida Poly President Dr. Randy K. Avent. “Autonomous and connected vehicles are emerging industries and we have a unique opportunity here at Florida Poly to lead innovation in this industry.”
The autonomous vehicle course is being launched as Florida Poly prepares for the arrival of SunTrax, a new testing facility being built near the University. SunTrax is a joint venture between Florida Poly and the Florida Department of Transportation designed to test tolling and autonomous vehicle technology.
“We are committed to offering courses and research opportunities that are cutting edge,” said University Provost Dr. Terry Parker. “Our rigorous curriculum is meant to challenge students to think not only outside the box, but to also help them get ahead of the game as innovative problem-solvers and high-tech professionals.”
The syllabus and project work for programming autonomous cars was developed by MIT and originally used as a summer study program. The relationship between Florida Poly and MIT started with President Avent, who previously served as Associate Chief Technology Officer at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.
While Florida Poly does not currently offer a degree program in autonomous vehicles, this course represents the University’s commitment to applied research and giving students opportunities to explore their interests. As the University grows and evolves, Dr. Bushey foresees similar robotics and autonomous classes becoming a regular curriculum feature. That’s based in part on the enthusiastic student response when the course became available.
“It’s an easy sell,” Dr. Bushey says. “They’re very excited about the prospect of a car that drives itself.”