SPRI At MIT: The Summer of Self-Driving Cars

September 12, 2016


This summer, GSSM Senior Brennan Cain helped develop algorithms and software with the purpose of teaching a miniature car navigation, mapping and object detection. That’s right…self-driving mini-cars! Read more about Brennan’s SPRI Experience at MIT’s Beaver Works Summer Institute. 

The Beaver Works Summer Institute (BWSI) began as an idea by Dr. Robert "Bob" Shin of MIT Lincoln Labs to create a summer program for programmers, an area that was previously undeveloped. His goal was to create a program where high school students from around the United States could work together with top researchers and professionals in the field of robotics to develop autonomous robotics systems. In order to find students for the pilot year of BWSI, Dr. Shin contacted the National Consortium of Secondary STEM Schools (NCSSS) and was able to find students from many of the member schools. Students came from 11 states: Mississippi, Illinois, Arkansas, California, New York, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

The program lasted for 4 weeks. The students worked each weekday from 9:00am to 5:00pm. During the weekdays, the students listened to lectures and seminars and worked on labs to enforce the material and accomplish weekly goals. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the students would also attend a lesson on communication with Dr. Jane Connor. Each week, the students were given a section of robotics to learn and a challenge.

Week 1 focused on the basics of the basics of the Robot Operating System (ROS), Linux (Ubuntu), and Python. The challenge for the week was to make the robot follow the wall using the Lidar.

Week 2 focused on image processing and recognition (manipulating and matching images). The challenge for the week was to visual servo (approach using visual input for steering) to a target on the wall and decide which direction to turn based on which color, red or green, is present.

Week 3 was intended to be focused on localization and mapping, however, several technical issues led to a focus on the technical challenges instead. These challenges included exploring and detecting colored blobs and completing a correct turn at a colored piece of paper.

Week 4 was focused on final preparation for the Grand Prix, the final challenge. The Grand Prix was to be a race around a miniature Grand Prix circuit, complete with shortcuts and sharp turns. During this week, the Grand Prix was hosted and tech challenges were completed.

Read more about Brennan's summer.

Check out the code he wrote for his project.

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