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Driverless car demonstration causes a buzz
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Photo by BOB McCLURE
A driverless car, built by students from Florida Polytechnic University, glides around a course during a demonstration June 2 at the St. Pete Beach Community Center.
ST. PETE BEACH – Information technology educators and others got a brief glimpse of what may be our transportation future June 2 when an engineering team from Florida Polytechnic University demonstrated the merits of driverless cars at the St. Pete Beach Community Center.

Dr. Dean Bushey, a professor at FPU who teaches a one-semester autonomous car system course, began the demonstration with a presentation on the technical aspects of driverless vehicles before moving downstairs where his students showed off the technology with a fitted 1/10-scale Traxxas Rally Car.

The vehicle featured a light detection and ranging (LIDAR) system that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser beam to measure ranges. The LIDAR system scanned 270 degrees and could measure ranges up to 30 meters.

The vehicle also included automated controls for steering, brakes and navigation. Students controlled the car through a laptop program that transmitted instructions to the car via WiFi. It had a maximum speed of about 40 mph, which was scaled down for the demonstration.

The result? The car moved effortlessly around a walled, oval course with no hands-on from anyone. When obstacles were placed in its path, the car easily dodged them and continued on its path.

Bushey, who is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, said his class teaches students how to build a robot operating system, which culminates with the students racing their cars in a grand prix-style competition around the school campus.

Bushey said the technology he uses to teach the class is available to high school IT instructors at no cost.

“They’ve just got to pay for the car (and fitting it with the necessary components),” he said. That amount, Bushey said, would be about $4,500.

FPU, which is located in Lakeland, is the state’s only university that is dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Its current enrollment is about 1,300 students and its maximum capacity is about 2,200.

Enrollment requirements include Algebra I and Algebra II at the high school level, with a minimum 3.95 grade-point average, which Bushey said is a higher academic requirement than what the University of Florida currently requires.

For more information, visit www.f­lorid­apoly­techn­ic.or­g or call 863-583-9050.
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