Josh Lewis, Abe Mishler, Justin Morris, Morgan Catlin and Robert Ehlers



Innovative UTC students to enter U.S. DoD race

An ambitious team of engineering and computer science students at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will try to win a race no one else has, and at the same time tap into a powerful new technological tool for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

Team UTC is in the planning phase, ready to begin development on core technologies that will become the foundation for Sapphire, the UTC entry in the 2005 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge for Autonomous Vehicles. Team UTC will try and qualify to be one of twenty college teams to participate in the race, to be held in an undisclosed location on October 8, 2005.

It will be the second race sponsored by DARPA, the research and development branch of the DoD. The team whose unmanned vehicle crosses the finish line first in a specified time frame, and negotiates an obstacle course with no human assistance after the race has begun will be awarded $2 million from DARPA. But there is more than money motivating this group.

"My brother is a member of the military police in Iraq," according to Abe Mishler, project leader for Team UTC. "I am excited to participate in this project because this is the kind of technology that will replace my brother and others who volunteer to protect convoys." Mishler is earning his Master of Science degree in Computer Science at UTC.

The Mojave Desert was the setting for the 2004 DARPA Challenge for autonomous vehicles, and the teams were expected to complete a 140 mile course in less than ten hours. When the race ended no team entry had crossed the finish line, and the longest distance traveled by any of the autonomous vehicles was 7.4 miles.

“This is a doable thing. One of the teams last year spent $3 million dollars, and we are talking about teams from Cal Tech and MIT. I can’t believe that somebody can’t get an unmanned vehicle through the desert,” said Joe Ferguson, President and CEO of The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga. “I am so impressed with the drive and energy of the UTC students behind this project. I would love nothing more than to see UT Chattanooga put this thing together,” Ferguson said.

A Humvee is the choice base for Sapphire, because Team UTC believes it is the best suited for the desert conditions of the Challenge.

Team UTC will concentrate on building an entry that is “a smarter vehicle, not tougher,” according to Mishler. He says many of the teams last year made the technology more complicated than it needed to be, and Team UTC will solve the smaller problems of artificial intelligence first, before it tackles the more difficult issues.

“Sensors will replace our human eyes and ears,” said Mishler. “They will solve problems by avoiding a fence or other obstacle.”

The next step for the group is to attend a meeting in Anaheim, California, to meet the competition and get a firm grasp on the guidelines of the race. To date, Team UTC has received financial support from the Riverbend Institute, and use of space in the EMCS Building has been made available.

For additional information on opportunities to participate in the Team UTC effort, either through participation, sponsorship, or both, please contact Dr. Andy Novobilski, (423) 425-4202, the team’s faculty advisor.