Autonomous Vehicle Test Drive

On November 18th, Reporters from the Daily News-Record, TV-3 and WMRA took test rides in the golf cart that was made autonomous by JMU students.

In the spring of 2018, 21 students from five different majors—Communication Studies, Computer Science, Engineering, Independent Scholars, and Integrated Science and Technology—participated in the debut Autonomous Vehicles class at JMU X-Labs. By engaging in the program’s unique innovation ecosystem, they transformed a traditional golf cart into a self-driving vehicle with pre-mapped locations on the student-designed website and app. For four semesters in a row, students expanded on the project at JMU X-Labs, and in September 2018 the class won the Governor’s Technology Award for innovative use of technology in education.

After a local TV news report covered the successful culmination of the class, a resident at a local retirement community asked JMU X-Labs if it was possible to design a self-driving kit to make their fleet of golf carts autonomous. This simple question led, in turn, to an award from The Jeffress Memorial Trust in the amount of $120,000 to Samy El-Tawab, Nathan Sprague, and Michael Stewart from the faculty team.

News Features

The idea behind the Autonomous Vehicles class was originally proposed by Richard Xu (Engineering ’18) and the class itself was developed by Nick Swayne, the founding director of JMU X-Labs. Swayne said that he designed the course to meet a growing niche in the autonomous vehicle industry. “More and more universities are attempting to improve the sensors and processors necessary for autonomous vehicles, but the work is primarily being done by PhD professors and candidates,” said Swayne. “For the industry to mature, we will need to have a lot of undergraduates that know how to integrate systems, test, write code, etc., and I wanted JMU to be one of the first institutions to offer that opportunity to undergrads.”

JMU X-Labs provides classes that allow students from all 58 majors to work together to solve problems in a setting where everyone is responsible for their own research and the professors don’t prescribe solutions. The lab puts students in position to approach and solve real problems, which leaves the students with skills that most don’t develop until they’re much further along in their careers.

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A reporter rides in the autonomous golf cart

JMU Studying Autonomous Vehicles To Benefit The Elderly

“When students and faculty at James Madison University began designing an autonomous vehicle, one that can drive itself, in fall of 2018, it was mostly excitement to learn the process and to see if it could be done.”

By Megan Williams

A reporter interviews Professor Sprague in front of the golf cart

JMU tests out autonomous vehicle aimed to help retirement communities

“Students and faculty at James Madison University are working on a project to benefit retirement communities by helping the elderly get around without the need of a driver.”

by John Hood

A woman sits in the autonomous cart while a reporter interviews the professor

JMU Engineering Students Test Self-Driving Cart

“A team of engineers and students at James Madison University has outfitted a golf cart to drive itself.  And it’s not meant for the golf course.  The autonomous cart is designed to help transport elderly passengers safely across retirement communities. The group test drove the cart on campus this week, and WMRA’s Calvin Pynn took it for a ride.”

By Calvin Pynn

Posted November 30, 2020

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