The competitive student teams at the College of Engineering’s Wilson Student Team Center are doing what the rest of us are doing: adapting to the challenges brought about by the pandemic. For these students who design, build and compete every year in addition to their academic course load, the real world experience their team provides has taken on a new meaning. Highly sought after interdisciplinary students are a draw for industry, and student teams are a great source of talent and a key opportunity for companies to connect to them for support.
UM Autonomy is one of those teams. We talked with students on the team to learn more about their projects, their pandemic response, and what connections they’re looking for.
Q: Tell us a little about your team.
A: UM Autonomy is an award-winning undergraduate student project team. Every year, we design and build a fully autonomous boat and auxiliary vehicle to compete in the RoboBoat competition. Our team consists of a wide variety of engineers studying disciplines like computer science, naval architecture and marine engineering,mechanical engineering, to name a few.
To complete our project, we divided our team into 5 sub teams: AI, Drone, Hulls & Systems, Business, and Electrical. Together we work hard to provide students with hands-on experience in leadership, artificial intelligence, image processing, naval architecture, mechanical design, and more!
Q: What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?
A: Despite the odd year, we are currently working on a lot of new and exciting projects! The AI Team is working on a new deep learning project dedicated to researching new deep learning tools that could help in our competition. Our hulls team is moving to a new and bold trimaran design and increasing the overall size of our boat to provide a larger landing pad for our drone. We created a new sub team dedicated to the drone itself. With their new project, we are working on a custom drone structure and are very excited to see it in action. On the electrical side, we are excited to finally implement the new hardware upgrades we had last year but were unfortunately unable to use in competition due to the pandemic.
Overall, it’s an exciting year despite the challenges.
Q: What challenges do you have now due to the pandemic that you didn’t face last year?
A: In the past, much of our planning and progress was done in the Wilson Center. With everyone in one general area, it was very easy to communicate between sub teams and brainstorm solutions on the spot. This year, we’ve minimized the amount of time spent in person for the safety of our members. This means safely planning out every in-person activity in detail to optimize the amount of progress accomplished when we do briefly meet in person.
Q: What are your concerns or challenges that your team has to manage this year?
A: Our season usually starts with a design cycle followed by a build cycle. Many of our concerns have been around the build cycle as it is dependent on access to the Wilson Center, which we hope can remain open the second semester of school.
We are also concerned about the in-person experience we are providing to our newer members. Obviously, this isn’t the best experience for new members; however, we still want to try to provide the best learning experience for our members.
Q: How are you attracting or helping new students become part of the team?
A: For new members, we always try to assign them to a sub team project so they have a specific project and goal to work towards. This also provides them with a small group of the team that they can meet and not be too overwhelmed.
We’ve also been trying to incorporate more social events into the organization for new members to have the opportunity to learn more about how each sub team works and the interesting projects we have.
Q: What competitions or events do you have this year and when are they?
A: We compete in the RoboBoat competition that is during June 21-27
Q: How can industry connections support your team?
A: Industry connections could provide support monetarily, through products/services, or general guidance
Q: Who are your biggest funders now and what kind of support do they provide?
A: Our biggest funders as of right now are Boeing, Ford, Aptiv, and the college of engineering. Boeing and Atpiv have been monetary support. Ford has helped monetarily and provided a mold for our hull this year which is a huge help.
Q: What are your current funding or industry connection needs?
A: Currently, looking for more sponsors to connect with and build a long term relationship with. When we were reaching out to sponsors again this year, we noticed that some of our contacts were outdated and found difficulty reaching certain sponsors.
We’d love to find more contacts to establish that long term connection. We’d also like to be able to connect with more automotive organizations working on autonomous vehicles. We feel like we have a very interesting team that does amazing work and would really like to get our name out there.
Q: How can we learn more about your team?