Engineering students to help design city’s future

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October 3, 2014
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October 3, 2014

Engineering students to help design city’s future

Dr. Bill Lovegrove and Lauriana Cojocaru work on programming for a transportation project with the Greenville Area Development Corporation. Photo: Holly Diller

If you see a robotic vehicle driving itself around the science building in the coming weeks, don’t be alarmed; it’s just homework.

For almost a decade the BJU engineering department has competed in a Michigan robotics competition with units designed and built by senior engineering students in Eng 406 Mechatronics. This year’s students have an opportunity to try something new and exciting: self-guided vehicles.

Earlier this year the Greenville County Economic Development Corporation, a county-appointed entity that seeks to drive economic growth in Greenville, approached the University with this new opportunity. For several years, Greenville has been looking to establish some form of mass transportation, and one of the pieces of a possible system they’re investigating is a self-guided vehicle. With BJU’s experience from robotics competitions, the University’s engineering department was a natural pick for GCEDC.

To kick-start the effort, GCEDC provided two Star EV-donated golf carts to the Mechatronics class students, who have begun transforming them into two self-guided vehicles.

This is no small undertaking. The students have until the end of this semester to turn these standard golf carts into highly intelligent vehicles capable of navigating obstacles on their own. Currently, students are in the early planning stages of building. However, according to Mr. John Hawkins of the department of physics and engineering, students might start seeing the vehicles being tested around the science building in the coming weeks.

A good performance on this project could mean more than just a good grade for the students working on it. The goal of this project is to feature the two completed golf carts at next February’s Auto Summit, an event that brings a large number of automotive companies to South Carolina. The GCEDC is hoping that a good showing at this event will demonstrate to manufacturers that Greenville has the capabilities and resources for a mass transit system. The autonomous vehicles built by these engineering students could play a special role in bringing these manufacturers to the city.

Joshua Johnson, a senior engineering major in the Mechatronics class, is working on programing a golf cart. He says he particularly enjoys the teamwork required for the project. The three teams – software, electrical and mechanical – will all have to work well together to finish the vehicle before the project deadline.

A member of the software team, Johnson is currently using the robot from last year’s Mechatronics project as a test robot for the code that will eventually be put on the golf cart.

“It’s a group project, which is a lot of fun,” Johnson said. “Confronting a challenging problem with people and solving it is awesome.”

Any kind of mass transportation system in Greenville may be many years away from development. But, in the meantime, BJU is giving students excellent engineering experience while providing a chance to help design the city’s future.