Student helps tackle traffic challenges for autonomous vehicles

Yiming Wan is a senior majoring in mechanical engineering from Yangzhou, China

Q: What is your research focus at UD?

Wan: I study the use of connected and automated vehicles, known in the industry as CAVs, at University of Delaware with Andreas Malikopoulos, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Q: What is it about this topic that interests you?

Wan: UD’s Scaled Smart City serves as a test-bed to explore the advantages of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. It is an effective way to test concepts developed for real world traffic scenarios using CAVs. As we know, CAVs are the transportation of the future, so research on a topic like this that will influence the future really interests me.

Yiming Wan places an item in UD's Mini Smart City

Q: What is a typical day like?

Wan: We have several groups in Information and Decision Science (IDS) lab and each group is responsible for different tasks on the project. Right now, I’m in charge of drone team. Our team is working on having several drones fly in our mini-city, and then making the drones hover at a road intersection or follow our CAVs. Just like our CAVs can share information with each other to analyze the traffic conditions, our drones also can share information with CAVs. In brief, drones are monitoring the traffic in the city. Because our system is decentralized, after getting information from the drones and the other CAVs, each individual vehicle finds the optimal travelling speed for themselves. So, right now, I’m focusing on coding software for the drones to make sure they can fly in the city and follow the vehicles steadily. So far, we have made six drones fly and hover over certain points in our mini-city.

Q: What is the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do on the project?

Wan: I have built about 35 second-generation robotic vehicles. I have spent massive time using a computer-aided design software and computer-aided engineering computer program, called SolidWorks, to design the frame of our second-generation vehicles. We then print out the vehicle frame by using the 3D printer in our lab and solder them together. I felt very fulfilled when I finished this work.

Q: What has surprised you the most about your experience?

Wan: The technology has definitely surprised me. When I started working with the drone project, it was the first time that I had used a robotics operating system, known as ROS, and a motion capture system, called VICON, to control the drones. ROS operates on the principle of a series of nodes that publish data (write) to a topic and nodes that subscribe (read) data from a topic. This dynamic framework gives us many opportunities in the field of autonomous drones. The VICON system is a motion capture system that uses an optical camera, which we use to manage and control the motion of the robotic vehicles or drones. I knew this technology had been used in the film industry before I joined lab, but after using this system for our research, its powerful functions really surprised me.

Q: Dreaming big, where do you hope this work could lead?Yiming Wan holds a miniature drone

Wan: Our lab at UD is currently leading research efforts on CAVs. Dreaming big, I hope that some of these technologies will hit the road in the coming years in the U.S. and in the rest of the world.

Q: If you had to summarize your experience in only one word, what would it be?

Wan: Progressive. I think I have made a lot of progress from a person who knew nothing about connected and autonomous vehicles, to someone who is doing cutting-edge research today. I have learned a lot in our lab at UD, so “progressive” would be the best word to describe my experience.

Q: What do you enjoy when you are not doing research?

Wan: In my free time I enjoy playing basketball, fishing, traveling and searching for delicious food.

Article by Karen B. Roberts

NewsTransport in UD’s Scaled Smart City