Virginia Tech Competes In 2017 AutoDrive Challenge

Virginia Tech Earns Spot To Compete In 2017 AutoDrive Challenge

Each team will be provided a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle as a platform to develop a fully autonomous passenger vehicle.

The 2017 AutoDrive Challenge vehicle will require full autonomous driving in an urban driving course. The AutoDrive Challenge will use a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV as the project test platform.


Virginia Tech was selected as one of eight universities to compete in the AutoDrive Challenge, a new collegiate competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineering and General Motors.

Each team will be provided a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle as a platform to develop a fully autonomous passenger vehicle. At the end of the project, teams will compete by navigating an urban driving course in autonomous mode.

Al Wicks, associate professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, will lead a diverse team of faculty and students who will work on the project.

“As part of our proposal to be selected for the AutoDrive Challenge, we leveraged our technical diversity by constructing a team featuring the mechanical, and electrical and computer, and civil and environmental engineering, and computer science departments,” Wicks said.

With dedicated facility support through the College of Engineering, Wicks’ plans for the team go beyond the design and construction of the autonomous system.

“This is an excellent opportunity to have our students take part in a team dynamic that features a variety of disciplines with a specific goal — much like they’ll face when they head to work in industry after graduation,” Wicks said. “We will link our existing courses with the real-world applications of AutoDrive, integrate underclassmen by assigning projects that support the effort, and help our students develop other skills that aren’t often covered by engineering courses, such as communication, meeting organization and presentation skills.”

Wicks said the team would also include support from TORC Robotics, Advance Auto Parts and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

“As is true of all our competition teams over the years, the support we receive from industry sponsors and Virginia Tech institutes and departments outside engineering has always been critical to our success,” Wicks said. “Looking at the experience our team has and the collaborative response we’ve seen so far, I’m confident we will have earned our place among the top universities that have been selected for this competition.”

In addition to graduate and undergraduate students, more than a dozen faculty will be part of the AutoDrive Competition team, which is entirely independent of the other 15 vehicle and autonomy teams supported by the college. Faculty members include:

Mechanical Engineering

  • Professor and Department Head Azim Eskandarian
  • Professor Tomonari Furukawa
  • Associate Professor Al Wicks
  • Associate Professor Pinhas Ben-Tzvi
  • Associate Professor Alexander Leonessa
  • Associate Professor Steve Southward


Computer Science

  • Assistant Professor Bert Huang


Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

  • Professor Hesham Rakha
  • Assistant Professor Farrokh Jazizadeh


Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

  • Professor Micahel Hsiao
  • Associate Professor A.L. Abbott
  • Associate Professor Montasir Abbas
  • Assistant Professor Ryan Williams
  • Assistant Professor Jia-Bin Huang


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