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Matty Wolfson headshot

Matty Wolfson

Class of 2022

Major: Computer Science 

Minor: Theatre

Hometown: Leesburg, Virginia

High School: Heritage High

Highlights: Autonomous vehicle team rock star; also spends a fair amount of his time in the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts pursuing his passion in theatrical design; solid engineering background; Eagle Scout

Matty Wolfson loves computer science.

Once he crossed paths with Dr. El-Tawab, Wolfson discovered new ways to help his computer science knowledge roll. Literally, In this case.

Wolfson, El-Tawab and a host of others are engineering an autonomous golf cart that promises to the game for local retirement community residents in significantly positive ways.

Matty, talk about how you got involved in this project.
So fall of 2020, mid-COVID, I took the intro to robotics course with Dr. Nathan Sprague. And I got into the core of how stuff like these systems run, but in a class in a more simulator-style level. And the end of that semester, Dr. Sprague told us about the project of the autonomous golf cart that uses all the concepts that we learned within the simulator, and uses them in real life on real hardware, doing real calculations with a real purpose. I knew I needed to find out more about it.

Did the simulator mimic real life?
It's completely different from a simulator, going through and doing something on the cart than doing it on the computer screen. And I'm a Computer Science major but I have a very heavy engineering background, so when I saw the two worlds combine, I went, oh, I need to do that.

Dr. El-Tawab, talk about the origin of the project.
This project started in 2018. Then-JMU X-Labs Director Nick Swayne contacted me and said they wanted to offer a non-traditional course that allows multidisciplinary students to join and work on something new. And we discussed it and decided that autonomous vehicles are a hot topic. And we hoped to convert a golf cart to an autonomous-driven one. The project was 24 students in

”I joined the project working on the user interface with another student. I did some code work, got my hands into it. Later, I'd hop back in just to kind of get a full knowledge of the project. It’s a pretty cool thing when you take it out and you're driving around campus.”

Didn’t it win some statewide award?
In spring 2018, we got an award from the Governor of Virginia for best use of technology in an undergraduate classroom.

Talk about the scope of the project now.
We’re customizing the golf cart for Bridgewater Retirement Community. Our plans continue to advance year to year, and we continue to push ourselves to gather user data and learn more so that we can come up with as many ways as possible to help the residents there get around as safely and comfortably as possible.

Matty, you have stayed involved in this?
Come the fall of 2021, I finally met Dr. El-Tawab and I got more involved with some of the backend stuff or writing scripts to do some automation for it. And then we started talking about doing a class, discussing what my role would be because I wasn't really in the normal state of being a student since I had knowledge in all the different areas but I still wanted to be involved. That’s when I took on the role of Teaching Assistant.

Explain how that works.
in addition to doing my own independent research on the project, I also help the other groups as they are working on their smaller projects, kind of just keeping everyone together and when they need knowledge on different aspects of it. I can give them the knowledge they need to do what they need to do without having the time delay of communicating with other teams.

Has this project ended up being what you hoped it was going to be?
Definitely! I did not expect coming into school that this is something I'd be working on. Once I saw what it was, it has totally been what I was hoping it would be. And it's been an amazing amount of collaboration between all the different areas. The fact that we have engineers working on it doing hardware-level work and a C.S. major doing all the software work—the entire department is working on it. And getting my hands on it and kind of having the one part that you say you contributed to this really makes it worth it.

Dr. El-Tawab, it really is real world, isn’t it?
We have had more than 60 students work on this project since it started. That’s 60 students from all different majors—computer science, information technology, engineering, media arts and design. I got an email from one of our alumni saying that he was interviewing for General Motors, and he said that moment he talked about the autonomous vehicle they wanted to know more. They were clearly looking for a real-world project. He was hired in the simulation department at General Motors.

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