Archive for August, 2005

CajunBot recovering fast

Friday, August 26th, 2005

Lafayette, LA – CajunBot is back in the lab, with a new axle. As I write this, she is being put together again.Our many thanks to Jay in the Parts Department of Recreational Industries, the makers of MAX IV ATV, the six-wheeled vehicle we have turned into CajunBot. While I have not yet directly talk to Jay, I have sensed his blessings through Tom Cain of Cain Auto. Everytime Tom calls Jay to order parts for CajunBot, Jay asks about her well-being and offers a substantial discount to be passed on to us.

Tom has also been very generous, passing on the full discount to us, with no mark ups. In addition, he has also thrown in free labor.

But for these discounts, I’d have paid enough to buy a new ATV by now.

Friends and fans, when you get a chance, please communicate your appreciation to Recreational Industries and Thomas Cain (33) 261-5743. Better still, find a MAX ATV dealer near you ( and take it for a ride. You will know why we have chosen this ATV as a base for CajunBot.

– Arun Lakhotia

CajunBot wounded

Sunday, August 21st, 2005

Camp Outback, TX – The drive to finish the min-challenge caused the team to push CajunBot a little too hard. In the process we ended up wounding her.Sunday morning we were all upbeat that CB was ready to take on the forty miles run. The previous day, Adrian had said he would survey the remaining course if CB finished the 3.2 miles course. It turned out that he had to rush to complete the surveying for CB sort of snuck up on him.

While I was happy with CBs performance on Saturday, Pablo and Suresh were not quite so. They did not like that CB was not able to maintain a graceful gait while going over broken rocks at high speed. They had asked Joshua and Santhosh to get PID values for steering CB at different speeds. This work was already completed on Saturday night. So Pablo and Suresh went on with modifying the system to use different sets of PID values for different speed. The results were visibly good. It was like CB had been transformed overnight. The jerky, robot-like, movements had gone away. She was making very smooth turns.

Excited with all the progress, we ventured on to run the eastern track surveyed by Adrian. The travel started pretty smooth. Even though the track was barely eight feet wide, CB was cruising along very well. Then at some point we found that CB veered away from the track and started running parallel to the track, going through grass and bushes. Joshua took manual control, got her back on track, and let go. On she went back into the bushes.

This behavior got quite puzzling. We were already about two miles into the track. It did not make sense to drive the bot back manually. We figured we may as well run the bot on her own and bring her back. The track was a loop, anyway.

After making several close calls in the rather narrow track, we finally reached the ‘main’ road of the ranch. This was a little more wide, about 10ft. Having driven through a much more cramped space, we were finally relaxed. We were barely half a mile from the camp.

Just what happens when you get numbed by a continuous error. We had begun accepting CBs running parallel to the track as a normal behavior. There was another close call, when CB almost ran into a big rock hidden behind grass. As always Joshua was quick on the RC, taking control of CB before she kissed the rock. He brought her back on the track and let her go.

By now it appeared CB was getting tired of being controlled by RC. She started running on the track, instead of in the grass. We were happy with this welcome change.

Then all of a sudden, I see CB slamming straight into a tree. No warning, nothing. A fraction of a second ago she was going smooth, orienting herself to drive past the tree. But for some inexplicable reason, she decided to turn a little harder and run straight into the tree.

While Joshua was still collecting his nerves, Pablo and Amit were on their fours, looking under CB’s belly, surveying the damage.

Diagnosis – CB had broken an axle.

Once we had our senses back, someone observed that the computers and electronics were still humming. The severe shock had not blipped them. In the past even a slight bump would trip our computers. This is thanks to the new structure designed by Joshua H and Chris L, manufactured by BEGNAUD, and the double redundant shocks mounting offered by Hardigg Case.

It was suddenly time for everyone to pack and go back home. There is not a whole lot one could do with the broken axle in the ranch.

A test is said to be successful if it makes a system fail. With that measure our field test was resounding success. Thought we did not complete the forty miles mini-challenge, we were quite happy with the progress that we made in the short five days.

This message is brought to you courtesy of satellite internet connection provided by SOLA Comm

– Arun Lakhotia

CajunBot completes 3.2 miles track on ranch terrain

Saturday, August 20th, 2005

Camp Outback, TX – Last few days have been very exciting as well as gut wrenching. We started off well with positive results from the testing the obstacle detection module. Amit tested the component under various conditions, going up and down slopes, going through narrow regions, gates, cattle guards, fences, and the likes. He reported good recognition capabilities at various speeds.

The integrated system, however, did not fare well. CB was oscillating pretty wild going over dirt and gravel surface. After the donuts she made on the runway on the ranch, Ray Majors put the runway out of bounds. This is the first and only time Brother Majors has put any restrictions on us. So you can imagine the donuts must have been really bad.

Joshua and Suresh spent good two days tuning the steering control system. By late Wednesday not much progress was made. Suresh thought the problem was with the steering module. Thursday was spent changing parameters of the steering algorithm, with insignificant results.

Come Friday, the situation changed quite abruptly. Joshua and Santhosh had worked late into the night tuning the steering, and the results were really good. By mid-day Friday, CB had completed several rounds of our mini track of about 1 mile. While she went through the route well, her movements were not as gracious.

Maybe CB was at her best behavior because she knew Pablo was arriving Friday night. As always happens, Pablo’s arrival also changed the dynamics of the team. Starting Saturday morning, the attention shifted to completing the 3.2 miles course on the West end of the ranch. The team spent most of the day in the field, in open Sun, except for a lunch break.

Saturday evening CB had completed the 3.2 miles course at speed varying between 5 and 10 miles an hour, with all systems on.

The mood of theteam now is to meet the min-challenge of completing 40 miles on the ranch trails.

Check out the video gallery for related videos.

– Arun Lakhotia

Team CajunBot sets up camp at Outback Ranch

Tuesday, August 16th, 2005

Team CajunBot has setup camp at Majors’ Outback Ranch near Roosevelt, TX. Having left Lafayette at around 1 PM on Monday, the team arrived at the camp at 2am. The caravan of three vehicles was driven by Adrian, Joshua, and Adam. Besides driving, the trio also kept the rest of us entertained with their chatter over the radio.

The Majors are the most gracious hosts. Ray Majors cooked us a hearty breakfast today, attending to details of dietary preferences of each individual. If it is difficult for him to host vegetarians on a cattle ranch, he sure does not show it.

CB making training runs CB after makeover

At the start of the field testing, I have offered the team a mini-challenge: Before we return from the ranch, finish a 40 miles autonomous run with CajunBot, and I bring the whole team out to dinner at any place of their choosing.

The team is off to a good start to take on the mini-challenge. We unloaded the trailers, setup lab, and setup workshop in no time, by around noon were running the bots. CajunBot had a rough start. She is still adjusting to the new structure and the new tires. By dinner time, Suresh and his team had trained CajunBot to drive smoothly on the dirt terrain. Meanwhile, Amit started off with testing RaginBot’s ability to detect obstacles. At 11:00pm they reported completing a 300 meters autonomous run in pitch dark.

As I write, Adrian and Joshua are busy replacing CajunBot’s guts by the Hardigg cases. We had run into some difficulties last weekend. The case opening was 1/16″ too small. Thanks to BEGNAUD Manufacturing, before we left Lafayette we had redrilled holes, precisely 1/16″ off. By morning tomorrow CajunBot would have undergone yet another surgery.

Check the photo gallery for related images.

This page has been made possible courtesy of the connectivity provided by SOLA Communications

SOLA Communications to provide connectivity where there is none

Friday, August 12th, 2005

What would you miss most in the high desert of Mojave, besides water? The ability to access Google, the source of all the answers. Google has become my de facto guru. I simply have to unload my problem in its search bar, and it comes back with answers.Thanks to SOLA Communication, a Louisiana company, the team will have instant access to Google and the world-wide web anywhere and everywhere. Well, not just that the team will also have phone even in remote locations where no cell-phones signals reach.

I could tell you more about their technology, but you’d get better answer directly from them or else from Google.

Team CajunBot heading to Camp Outback in Roosevelt, TX

Thursday, August 11th, 2005

On Monday, August 15, Team CajunBot will be heading to Roosevelt, TX for field testing at Camp Outback, the ranch of Ray Majors. Camp Outback stretches over 2000 acres with dirt tracks, hills, barns, workshop, and even a runway.Folks, it is simply incredible how Ray has opened his heart and home to the team. He helped us take the very first step, by giving us the MAX ATV on which CajunBot is built. Ray, and his sons Mark and Danny, have continued to give ever since then. They have now bought us two vehicles and two trailers.

The Majors family represents the spirit of people in Louisiana. They work hard, enjoy life, and give all they have without conditions.

Should you happen to be near Roosevelt, TX, come by and see testing and tuning the bots. Yes folks, that’s plural. We will be testing CajunBot and Ragin’Bot. (We don’t take no for an answer.)

RaginBot gets another alternator from Mitchell Alternator of Alexandria

Sunday, August 7th, 2005

RaginBot continues to grow, keeping pace with its elder sibling CajunBot. DARPA’s decision has not deterred it one bit. Last week he acquired a second alternator. Now he can generate enough power to juice up all the electronics on board.

Adding another alternator to a Jeep is nothing short of a miracle. Its engine compartment is as compact as its driver seat. There is literally no place.

The miracle was pulled Mitchell Alternator and Starter Services, a Louisiana company, based in Alexandria. Rudy, the owner of this shop, sure knows alternators. That’s pretty much all you see when you walk into his shop. Alternator parts on the ground, on the desks, on the wall, and on rows of shelves in the attic.

CajunBot fans – Please call Rudy at (318) 487-9845 and thank him for a wonderful job.

BEGNAUD manufactures parts for CajunBot’s body

Sunday, August 7th, 2005

Team BEGNAUD Manufacturing, a Louisiana company, working overtime, nights, and weekends, has completed manufacturing parts for CajunBot’s new body. The team has dismantled the old structures. CajunBot as you have known is no more. She is going through a complete makeover. New body, new computers, new cables, new tires, new engine, and of course, new software.

Our many thanks to BEGNAUD for their remarkable turn around time. In barely a week, BEGNAUD, with its precision engineering and laser guided cutting tools, converted the design produced by Joshua Hargrave and Chris Ledet, into reality.

Special thanks to Byron, Gary, Mike, and Bryan for their personal attention and the professional work.