An electrical engineering student at North Dakota State University said his experience with UTC Aerospace Systems in Jamestown has helped prepare him to serve as a student team lead for a self-driving car research group.

Kevin Setterstrom, 23, is an NDSU senior who is leading student research on improving self-driving car technology in competition with other universities. The goal is to help shorten the duration from the lab to the production line, he said.

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“We are working on aftermarket solutions in the autonomous vehicle area,” Setterstrom said. “Right now we are in the preliminary research and are going in a good direction for where we want to go with it.”

Setterstrom started working at UTC as part of a co-op agreement in 2016. He continued with a senior design internship that turned into a part-time position.

Greg Allen, human resources manager at UTC, said Setterstrom performed well as a UTC intern. The company cannot go into detail about what he was working on, he said.

“He did a great job for us and were are glad to have him with us,” Allen said.

Setterstrom is also the president of the Drone Flight student organization at NDSU and leads student drone development and operations research. His group is working to make drone flight training accessible to students across the nation instead of just at specialty flight schools.

The self-driving car project team is developing a system to assess the command and control software for self-driving vehicles, Setterstrom said. The industry has proven this hardware and software, and the goal is to provide solutions for improved guidance systems, he said.

“The university did a great job bringing existing research to us to work with,” he said.

Self-driving car technology uses a four-camera system that provides images of road lines, other vehicles, pedestrians or any obstacles to the on board computer that also uses GPS mapping to direct the car, he said. The other side of the electronic steering technology involves the communication between cars using a control area network that sends data back and forth to further assist in reacting properly to directions, he said.

As part of the work the team will also work on solutions to ongoing problems such as self-driving cars on snow-covered roads where no lines are visible and the road surface may look similar to the off-road surface, he said. This might involve using heat signatures from the road surface, he said.

“Living up in the Midwest, snow is definitely an issue and we want to bring that in as an aftermarket solution,” he said.

The work is on technology that is still five to 10 years out from being used by the industry, said Jeremy Straub, an assistant profession of computer science at NDSU and Setterstrom’s mentor. This is technology that presents challenges with engineering, communication and security, he said.

“Security is a legitimate question when you have cars talking to each other as they drive down the road,” Straub said.

It is exciting for NDSU to be a part of a three-year project to improve second stage technology that will make the traveling experience more interconnected in the future, he said.

“We want to anticipate what kinds of problems exist with state-of-the-art systems and leapfrog,” he said.

Straub said that the students in the group will gain an experience that potential future employers will value as being ahead of the curve.

Setterstrom, originally from Alexandria, Minn., said he will live in Jamestown while working at UTC and plans to pursue a master’s degree and a doctorate in electrical engineering with a focus in artificial intelligence.