Computer-Controlled Golf Cart Designed by Cadets Debuts at VMI

Students from VMI work a computer controlled golf cart on the military school's campus in Lexington, Virginia

Joseph Lieber ’23 can steer, accelerate, and brake the golf cart by simply tapping a key on a computer keyboard. -VMI Photo by Kelly Nye.

LEXINGTON, Va. April 28, 2023 — Cadets at Virginia Military Institute recently demonstrated a computer-controlled golf cart to assist those who have trouble with mobility. The idea came about when the VMI Alumni Association got requests for golf cart transportation around post during reunions.  

According to Lt. Col. David Feinauer, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, within this past academic year, six cadets designed a computer system that controls a full-scale golf cart. Still not completely driverless, the design is a significant step toward the goal of an autonomous system. Multiple departments collaborated on the project including Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer and Information Sciences, and the Cyber Defense Lab.  

Using a computer keyboard, a cadet sits in the driver’s seat and commands the computer (located on the back of the golf cart) to accelerate, brake, and steer. There is no reason to touch the steering wheel or use the foot pedals. This system is helpful to anyone who needs to use hand controls exclusively.  

Joseph Lieber ’23, an electrical and computer engineering major who graduates in May said the project is the foundation of an autonomous driving vehicle, allowing the computer to control the vehicle instead of a person, and acts as the interface between the virtual world and the physical world. “It has two different levels of failsafe that respond anytime a person presses the brake pedal: an analytical one, in which it will force the vehicle to stop; and a digital one, in which the computer can tell that the brake pedal has been pressed, and the computer goes into an emergency stop. At that point it can still be driven manually, but must be reset before it can again be driven using the computer system.  

Plans for fall semester involve cadets working on mapping and building software to help with navigation, which will take a full year to complete. A third year will be dedicated to integrating the two projects.  

Marianne Hause
Communications & Marketing

VMI: Forging 21st Century Leaders