May of 2018 will see a new autonomous division in Purdue’s popular evGrand Prix karting program, but it was clearly in the works at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during preparations for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.
Purdue Motorsports’ evGrand Prix series is all-electric, utilizing sprint karts powered by battery packs. Current competition categories include energy efficiency, community outreach, design review and race placement (how the vehicles place in karting races). In 2018, the remote-controlled “autonomous” division will be added.
Jim Caruthers, professor of chemical engineering at Purdue, sees it as a natural progression.
“The autonomous division is a major technology step forward to engage the future of automotive technology,” he says. “It also enables the bringing together of advanced information technologies with mechatronics and electric vehicles. This event will be STEM, science, technology, engineering and math, at the highest level.”
Purdue is partnering with LHP Engineering Solutions of Columbus, Ind. and Bolton University in Manchester, England to create the series. LHP demonstrated the conversion to radio control/autonomous control at the speedway karting events by mounting a kart on a platform to give participants a closer view of the technology in action. LHP CEO David Glass believes the partnership will help develop more engineers for the blooming autonomous market.
“I started talking with Jim Caruthers about this, because Purdue goes from the sophomores down to junior high to attract kids into this industry. LHP starts internship programs for students at the junior level and above, then get bachelor-level or master’s-level graduates turned into productive engineers in six weeks or so. Then they can get a job at LHP or with some of our clients,” he adds.
LHP has a program called LHPU that jumpstarts current and recent students from all over the country into engineering careers through a six-week boot camp. President Zach McClellan sees the evGrand Prix partnership as a timely opportunity to keep Indiana at the forefront of advanced technologies.
“LHPU was founded with the intent of supplying a group of talented resources to the automotive industry that can do jobs like embedded controls, engine, controls, calibration, and the electric vehicle and autonomous vehicle projects-based learning environment is the next step in that process. We’re trying to draw and attract students from Indiana to stay in Indiana, to make Indiana a hub for this autonomous wave that’s coming through the autonomous vehicle space.”
The experience of pulling the partnership together at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway doesn’t escape McClellan, a former Major League Baseball player.
“It’s an incredible opportunity, it’s a lifelong dream to get the exposure we’re getting, with a background in professional sports , feeling that pressure to deliver, it all kind of comes together in the state of Indiana,” he says of the track atmosphere.
Asked if Indiana can become a leader in the autonomous vehicle arena, Glass is unequivocally convinced.
“Absolutely. With the engineering schools we have, and with Cummins, and Allison and Delphi and all those other automotive companies, and we’re all working together – certainly we have the engineering horsepower and knowledge of automotive applications – so I think this is a next great step and these companies need to be in front of these technologies.”