Waterloo’s student-led autonomous vehicle team pulled into second place in the final stage of the four-year international SAE AutoDrive Challenge.

The competition, which ended last month, had teams convert a stock Chevrolet Bolt EV into a fully autonomous vehicle.

WATonomous completed the last leg of the competition with its best results to date, improving on the team’s third-place finish in the third year of the competition.

Advised by Waterloo Engineering professors Derek Rayside and William Melek, the current 50-member team is headed by Charles Zhang, a computer science student, and Rowan Dempster, a computer engineering master’s candidate.  Throughout the four years, approximately 800 undergraduate and graduate students worked on transforming the vehicle as described in the YouTube video below. 

During the challenge, WATonomous supported 12 Waterloo Engineering Capstone Design projects and collaborated with research groups such as the Mechatronics Vehicle Systems Lab and Autonomoose.

“The AutoDrive Challenge has been an amazing opportunity for students at the University of Waterloo to explore and contribute to the future of autonomous vehicles with industry leaders such as GM and MathWorks,” said Zhang, current captain of WATonomous.

Like last year’s challenge, the 2021 competition was held online because of COVID-19 restrictions across North America.

Two weeks of remote judging resulted in the following awards for WATonomous:

● Overall: 2nd Place

● Safety + Technical Reports: 1st Place

● Social Responsibility Report: 2nd Place

● Social Responsibility Event: 3rd Place

● Concept Design Report: 3rd Place

The AutoDrive Challenge launched in 2017 with eight universities from across Canada and the U.S.

Besides Waterloo, competitors included Kettering University, Michigan State University, Michigan Tech University, North Carolina A&T State University, Texas A&M University, the University of Toronto (U of T) and Virginia Tech. U of T took first place in this year's challenge.

“Despite the SAE AutoDrive Challenge ending this year, WATonomous is committed to being a major contributor to autonomous driving research and development at the University of Waterloo,” said a release written by Matthew Picozzi, a mechatronics engineering student and the team's marketing manager. “The team is continuing to develop its autonomous driving platform and is strengthening its research initiatives and industry partnerships.”