Square One challenges students to develop self-driving vehicles

The drive to prepare students for careers in the rapidly expanding autonomous vehicle and mobility sector is getting a huge boost from an annual program that challenges high schoolers to develop a self-driving “Power Wheels Jeep.”

Never mind the “Jeep” is toddler-size – the challenge is the same. Participating high school students tap Arduino technology, GPS, and sensors to enable the base vehicle to self-drive an obstacle course, akin to a real-world street.

Every year about 15 teams of 10 students from across Michigan and nearby states participate in Square One’s Autonomous Innovative Vehicle Design Program. Students, working with their school teachers and mentors, have the academic year to configure their vehicle for the challenge. The event is held in May at Kettering University in Flint. 

“We saw more vehicles performing higher-level challenges this year than ever before,” says Barb Land, executive director of Square One Education Network, a Southfield-based non-profit educational organization, noting the autonomous challenge was launched nearly a decade ago. “With generous financial and technical support from partners like P3, we are seeing incredible growth in this complex project. ”

The program, which provides some funding and scholarships and other resources, is part of a series of innovative vehicle and technology challenges offered by Square One, with the aim of developing talent for the mobility industry.

“We know that the mobility industry is key to Michigan's future,” Land says. “We are going to need a workforce that can respond to it. There are going to be more jobs available than we can fill with the top tier of kids …”

‘Square One reaches students in under-resourced communities, communities that may not be aware of the well-paying career paths in the automotive industry,” she adds.

“The key is to get the word out and let them know from a young age that these are going to be great jobs. Let’s start building some of these skills and interests.”

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