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PSU AutoDrive Challenge II team lead looks ahead to first year competition

Posted: June 3, 2022

You could say Zach Kerr’s interest in SAE International’s collegiate programs drove itself.

In preparation for this year’s emergent technology series, AutoDrive Challenge II, we sat down with Kerr, team lead for Penn State’s Advanced Vehicle Team (AVT) and recent Penn State graduate, to learn about his involvement and the team’s preparation for this year’s competition.

Kerr has had a passion for cars since he was a kid. When he knew he was going to Penn State, he immediately started looking for automotive clubs and research opportunities. During his new student orientation, he met AVT’s faculty advisor, Gary Neal, who shared the AVT’s mission of providing students with experience in automotive technology and the teams history in collegiate automotive competitions. After that conversation, Kerr immediately got involved and never looked back.

Kerr and some teammates spent the summer of 2020 building the AVT’s request for proposal (RFP) for AutoDrive II, and the team was accepted in March of 2021. In preparation for the competition, the team took their ADAS advancements that were developed on a Toyota Prius as part of EcoCAR 3 during the spring of 2020 to familiarize the team with autonomous vehicle concepts.

“This was nowhere near the scope of Level 4 autonomy in AutoDrive, but it started getting the team familiar with autonomous vehicle (AV) concepts after spending over a decade working on hybridization efforts,” Kerr said. “During the 2020-21 school year we slowly added more AV based project teams into the team and after the March 2021 acceptance, we transitioned all but one of these teams to AV projects. These teams focused on hardware, algorithm, and simulation development.”

 The AVT is constantly looking for ways to improve the team from a technical, organizational, and interpersonal aspect. The team is excited for the competition in June and getting the opportunity to reflect on the successes and areas of improvement for the following years AutoDrive Challenge.

“Most of our members (me included) come in with little to no technical knowledge about automotive engineering, but they want to explore a career in this industry. The AVT has been the keystone for all of us in facilitating an experience outside of classes where we can learn about automotive technology and compete in the AutoDrive Challenge II,” Kerr said. “This passion, coupled with the professional experiences of AutoDrive, has catapulted my team members, and friends, to incredible achievements. The first year of AutoDrive has been the first time I've seen the impact of AVT on our members on such a broad scale.”

AutoDrive Challenge II is held in Ann Arbor Michigan, June 6th – 12th. Click here for more information on the AutoDrive Challenge II.