The 2021 SAE AutoDrive Challenge University Competition Gets Ahead With Siemens

By Leigh-Anderson

Drafted by Siemens intern Gregory Barker

Siemens Digital Industries Software has been a proud sponsor of the SAE AutoDrive Challenge™ university competition which began in 2017 and completed in 2021. Siemens would like to thank all the sponsors, especially General Motors and SAE International, along with congratulating all the student teams for their amazing autonomous R&D achievements. The AutoDrive challenge brings together students from 10 N. America universities for the world’s most challenging, most sophisticated real-world autonomous vehicle competition. General Motors is a visionary sponsor of this competition – providing major funding support, donations of Bolt EV vehicles for the students to modify, plus employee-mentors, parts, and other support to the student teams. SAE International does a great job of planning and running the competition.

Just one of the example of the guantlet of situations thrown at the students’ cars at the Mcity autonomous test facility. In this case, the students’ autonomous cars had to recognize a pedestrian, project it’s likely path, and then decide whether to brake for the pedestrian.

The overarching goals of the competition included educating and developing the next generation of Autonomous Vehicle Engineering Professionals in a multi-year phased approach with a focus on sensor technologies, computing platforms, software, implementing advanced computational methods, such
as computer vision, pattern recognition, machine learning (neural networks), artificial intelligence, sensor fusion and autonomous vehicle controls.

This was a four-year challenge and each year had unique components. The competition tasks students to develop and demonstrate a full autonomous driving passenger vehicle for operation even in a chaotic urban environment. The technical goal of the competition is to navigate an urban driving course at the Mcity test facility in an automated driving mode all the way to SAE Standard, Level 4 – a very advanced level of autonomy that industry is striving to achieve even today.

General Motors was so impressed with the talent and Series I achievements that they have stepped up to be the primary sponsor for a second AutoDrive Challenge series for 2022 through 2026! Siemens will be there as well with sponsorship funding, more no-cost software grants, training and technical support to the new crop of student teams.

The vehicles had to navigate complex intersections, some that even had
temporary, unusual obstacles such as these orange marking barrels.

Year 1 (2018) focused on the concept selection for the university teams by having them become familiar with their sensing and computation software. They were tasked with completion of a concept design written paper as well as simple missions for on-site evaluation, located in Yuma, AZ.

Year 2 (2019) focused on urban environment driving scenarios with static and dynamic objects. This will be located at Mcity, a one-of-a-kind urban test facility that simulates a broad range of complexities that vehicles encounter in urban and suburban driving environments.

Year 3 (2020) focused on urban environment driving scenarios that have teams optimize perception and sensing algorithms to navigate a fictitious rider sharing scenario through the Transportation Research Center’s SMART Center. This included a longer continuous autonomous drive than the past two years in which teams encountered both static and dynamic objects, traffic control lights and signs, as well as various lane line scenarios. Teams integrated HERE Mapping into their Year 3 Dynamic Challenges, which focused their Social Responsibility report on writing accessibility standards for a growing mobility industry, and refining their Concept Design to highlight innovative additions.

Female engineers are key contributors to all the student teams

Year 4 (2021) was the last year of this inaugural series of the AutoDrive Challenge™ competition and challenged the teams to show what the previous 3 years of development and learning has produced. The teams faced Dynamic Challenges in this last year. One challenge was to be a culminating drive linking together all the elements and features experienced in the previous 3 years. The second was to meet SAE Standard (J3016) Level 4 proof of concept demonstration drive. Additionally, teams were required to generate reports, presentations, and perform simulations to highlight their work and communicate what they have learned.

The University of Toronto was announced as the overall year four winner of the AutoDrive Challenge.

Due to Covid constraints only a few members of the large teams
could travel to Mcity for the Year Final. Here is the Virginia Tech team.

The teams utilized Siemens Software in one way or another. Siemens is happy to see that students succeed using our software. It is also helpful to hear feedback from future engineers in the automous vehicle industry by providing them with the top-quality products Siemens strives for. While teams using a variety of CAD and other SIemens software, the U. of Michigan team mentioned that our Simcenter PreScan autonomous simulator product really stood out.

Simcenter PreScan is the best-in class autonomous driving simulator – with the most accurate modeling of sensor physics. Many sensor types are supported such as LIDAR, cameras, radar and more, even including modeling real-world sensor noise or rain or snow. The teams can test their system even before the car is finished, using software-in-the-loop testing methods, then hardware-in-the-loop. Thousands of tests and situations can be run virtually, long before taking the finished car for physical competition at the Mcity facility.

“Usability is probably the largest factor in our choice of our main simulation platform. That and the competition requirements”, stated Jeremy from the University of Michigan team. “We’ve been using PreScan since the first Siemens workshop day and found it easy to use and very helpful.”  He went on to thank Siemens for all the help that they have provided to him and the team.

The University of Michigan student teams are quite advanced users of Siemens software tools, including this autonomous team, plus Formula Electric cars, solar cars, and aerospace teams such as aircraft and rocketry competitions.

Siemens year after year is able to help students achieve goals that they set out to accomplish. Siemens software is a key enabler to the innovation fostered at these events. There is a strong trend that the teams that use our software tend to do well within these competitions. This is due in part to using a digital twin engineering methodology that is enabled by the high integration of Siemens’ desgn and simulation tools. Many students are growing accustomed to relying our products for these competitions, which will make them more attractive to industry when they graduate..

The autonomous computing platform donated by Intel was stored in the trunk of the
GM Bolt EV cars. Teams often used Siemens’ CFD thermal analysis tools to analyze the cooling requirements.

Co-sponsors of the competition are also helping these elite students succeed, which also shows how strategic this program is to the automotive industry.

List of Sponsors of AutoDrive Challenge Series-1 completed 2021.

What’s Next?

The newly announced AutoDrive Challenge Series-II is set to launch in early 2022 – to 2026.

The AutoDrive Challenge™ series-II competition continues the strong collaboration between GM and SAE in STEM education and will build on the groundbreaking success of the first iteration of the AutoDrive Challenge. Participating university teams will develop and demonstrate an AV that can navigate urban driving courses as described by SAE J3016 Standard Level 4 automation.

Siemens will be there again with funding, software grants, as well as no-cost training and tech support. Congratulations to the Series-1 teams for their amazing accomplishments.

Get your Team a No-Cost Software Grant!
Student competition teams can get free student editions at this site, or apply for full commercial functional software packages, some of which don’t have student editions using this online form.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at