Students compete in intelligent racing Cup

02 April 2013

Last week, Freescale held the (other) European Cup and 27 University teams battled for a place in the World final.

The strains of the F1 sound track (Unchained by Fleetwood Mac) wafted through the gymnasium of the ESIEE, Paris, as 78 students from universities around Europe, checked wheels, lights and the chassis of their entry vehicle before placing them on the starting line in this year’s European final of the Freescale Cup.

The Cup is the most egalitarian of competitions. Each team receives the same basic equipment: the company’s Tower kit, based on standard boards or the Quoriva track board, CodeWarrior software and a standard, wheeled chassis. To this, teams can add the electronic equivalent of bells and whistles, to create a car that follows a track, complete with twists and turns, and hump-back features. Each car has two attempts and the fastest time is recorded; if a wheel of the car goes over the outer edge it is back to the starting line.

Flavio Stiffan, head of University Programs at Freescale explained that the teams have to trade off conventional car design issues, weight and stability, against the demands of software programming and how to use sensors and cameras in the vehicle to illuminate and follow the track. The competition has been held for the last 10 years, yet the last three years has seen an acceleration (no pun intended) in interest, said Steve Wainwright, general manager EMEA, Freescale.

This year’s competition attracted 20,000 students and there are 29 teams in the European Final, made up of 118 students. This is the kind of engineering talent that the company wants to engage with. “The competitors use either an ARM or Power Architecture microcontroller,” he explained. “[The competition] could be their first attempt at a system approach - it is not just about using one processor, but it is also interfaces, driving electric motors and sensors they need to understand, as well as software skills. It is often a practical introduction to C++ for many [students].” Other benefits for academia are working to a timeline, team work and the writing of a technical report for each entry.

The overall winners, the team that created the car that went around with all four wheels inside the track in the fastest time, was Team FEI-Minetors from the Slovak Technical University of Bratislava. The team not only demonstrated design skills in creating the car and an aptitude for wireless technology and programming, but also the ability to think competitively. While other teams concentrating on programming the vehicle to recognise the contours of the track and react, the Slovak undergraduates created a programme where on the first course, the car  ‘learned’ the track, so the first slow attempt fooled everyone. Once the twists and turns and power boost locations were plotted, the second attempt surprised everyone by zipping around and beating the early leaders Wroclaw University of Technology’s Wheel Extreme into second place.

There were nine other winners, the first three teams in three challenges held before the time trial. The first was to test stop and start functions. The car is placed behind the starting line and has to stop as close to the line as possible. The second challenge is obstacle avoidance and the third is called e-compass. In this challenge the cars have to drive in a perfect square and come to a stop. For the last 10 years, Freescale has invited universities to enter a team in the Freescale Cup and provided each team with a kit which they can add to, to create a vehicle. The ‘intelligent car racing’ tagline gives some insight into how the victor can claim the spoils.

The European winners, will go to the world final in China in August, competing against the winning teams from Asia, South America, central America and Mexico. Entries for the 2014 European Cup Final, to be held in Germany’s Fraunhofer-Gesellschalt applied research institute will be invited from next month. Professors of university faculties should contact Freescale via its University Program website.

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