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Race gives engineering students new energy

Engineering students put their hearts and souls into winning the year's race for autonomous cars. Programming, sensors and electromagnets are boiled down into a little self-propelled car, and complicated theory suddenly makes sense.

 By Birgitte Dalgaard, bird@tek.sdu.dk, 31-05-2016

 A racetrack winds around the floor. An orange toy car whizzes up the straight. Brakes into a corner. Drives carefully round. Speeds up, to the applause of a crowd of enthusiastic engineering students.

- I really want to win, but we've had some problems with our car falling off the track, says Kristoffer Mejer Kristensen, while he gets onto his tiptoes to get a better view of the competitors on the track.

- That car is luckily going very slowly; that's good, he remarks with satisfaction.

Autonomous robots
A rowdy atmosphere is spreading among the engineering students. They have gathered for the competition to find out who has the fastest self-propelled car. For two days before the race, they have worked day and night to finish their semester project on autonomous robots. Now all that remains is for them to play.

- It's kind of like a racetrack I had when I was little, says Emil Seerup who is on his second semester of the BSc in Engineering (Robot Systems) programme.

- But it's actually very complicated to make a car that can drive itself round an unfamiliar racetrack. For instance, the car has an accelerometer so that it can react when a corner is coming up, he explains.

Difficult technology boiled down into a car
That is precisely the point. It looks like a game, but behind the noisy laughs and applause from the spectators lies a great deal of work in making the cars able to beat their opponents.

Difficult technical concepts such as programming, sensors and electromagnets are boiled down into one little car. And there is nerdiness through and through in getting the car to drive as fast as possible without ending up in the ditch.

- It has meant a lot to us as students. The theory we have learned in the last year has become really understandable. It all makes sense now that we can put the theory into practice, explains Kristoffer Mejer Kristensen, who is on his second semester of the BSc in Engineering (Physics and Technology) programme. He continues:

- I also think that is why we care about it so much. It's like a massive eureka moment.