Giving Back

Multiple Gifts Put Students’ Autonomous Vehicle Research in the Fast Lane

Kettering University students are getting another tool for hands-on learning in the autonomous vehicle field.

The University recently purchased a Quanser Self-Driving Car Research Studio (SDCRS), a state-of-the-art system that mimics what is expected in an actual autonomous vehicle platform. Gifts from the estate of Walter Marr III and Marilyn Marr and the Margaret Dunning Foundation enabled the University to purchase the SDCRS.

“How cool is it that we’re in a new automotive frontier with autonomous cars and electric vehicles, and that’s where the gift will go?” said Marr’s son, Paul. “I think that’s amazing.”

The Marr gift provided matching money for the grant from the Margaret Dunning Foundation.

“The Margaret Dunning Foundation supports educational programs focused on the automotive industry, and Kettering University has been at the forefront of that initiative for years,” said Renee Sovis, Program Officer at the foundation. “The Self-Driving Car Research Studio is an exciting opportunity for the foundation to support the University’s great work with autonomous vehicle technology, which will lead students to careers in mobility. We were very glad to have the opportunity to support the SDCRS at Kettering.”

Although no one from the Marr family attended Kettering, they have strong ties to the automotive industry. Paul’s great-grandfather, Walter L. Marr, worked with David Dunbar Buick to engineer one of the first Buick vehicles. Paul’s father later became friends with former Kettering Professor Richard P. Scharchburg as he researched Walter L. Marr for a book.

“I think the connection was giving back to educate the next group of engineers,” Paul said.

The SDCRS includes five 1/10-scale autonomous vehicles, known as QCars, loaded with advanced computation, sensing, communication and actuator technology. The QCars can operate individually or as a coordinated fleet to develop and test various autonomous driving algorithms. These algorithms include collision avoidance; lane following; adaptive cruise control; autonomous mapping of the environment; path planning and navigation; road sign and traffic signal recognition; pedestrian detection; multivehicle coordination and more.

“The era of autonomous vehicles is upon us,” said Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Dr. Girma Tewolde. “Companies are working hard to develop this technology and bring it to the market for consumers. There is a great demand for a trained workforce with skills in autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence technology.” 

Using the SDCRS, students can learn these skills on a research platform that can be easily deployed in a small indoor environment and altered for various configurations. It is ideal for independent or directed study courses; research projects for graduate and undergraduate students and demonstrations at precollege camps to inspire young students to work in the field.

“We have to prepare the next generation of engineers and scientists who are capable to work on such complex systems and to drive the advancements of this technology,” Tewolde said. “These skills are highly sought after in industry, which is not only limited to the area of autonomous vehicles, but it is also relevant to applications of autonomous drones, industrial and warehouse automation, and other related commercial and service industries.”

Kettering has already received the SDCRS equipment. Tewolde anticipates students will begin using the system in the Winter Term.

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To make a gift such as the Marr gift, contact the Office of Gift Planning at (810) 762-9746 or 

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