11:23 hrs – Run 2: Cleared the difficult track, but stopped for no obvious reason

Fontana, CA – This has been heart wrenching. In the second run, CB cleared the difficult part of the track, about 3/4th of the track, and just when we thought she was home free she stopped, for no apparent reason. There was no obstacle, or anything else. Just a quick turn ahead of it. We are analyzing the data to find out what happened.

Gallery from NQE Qualifying Run #2

We were up at 5:00am, in the Speedway at 6:00am, and lined up for launch around 6:45am. Ahead of us was Red Team’s H1lander and Cornell’s Spider. I did not track time, but H1lander was launced around 7:00am. It went through the course pretty effortlessly. it was surprise to see Spider in the chute. The team was having problems with the transmission yesterday and were scheduled to change the transmission. They probably decided to run with the busted transmission. Spider was launched shortly after H1lander completed. It cruised through well too, and was visibly faster than H1lander along the speed section of the track. But halfway into the speed section in stopped. It had to be disabled and pulled out, most likely due to transmission failure.

CB was next in line for launch. Since day before we have been working on fixing the reason why it got stuck on the bail of hay. We were anxious to see how the changes fared, more so because the changes had not been tested.

As CB’s emergency lights started flashing we, in the spectators area, knew the bot was ready to launch. When it siren turned on it indicated bot had been given the signal to launch. But the bot did not move. Could feel the anxiety level in the team picking up. We saw the DARPA launch operator turn around to talk to our launch team – Joshua, Suresh, and Pablo. That did not look like a good sign. Joshua was seen running down. Not a good sign at all. Then Pablo came on radio–we have our own radio network here, thanks to James Dugal–and said they had forgotten to turn on the engine. Now that is a pretty good reason. We all had a big sigh of relief. That problem was easy to solve.

With the engine on, it was sure easy for CB to move. It took off from the chute, made a left turn and approached a gate, representing ‘cattle guard’. A little bit of twist and turn, and it aligned itself with the entrance, and pressed on gas. From then on it cruised through the twists and turns, without touching even a single traffic cone. The track has around 50 pairs of traffic cone. Each pair, one on either side of the track, represent a gate in the fence. Running into a cone is counted against you, as is running around any cone.

After a few turns, is the speed section of the track. I am not good in measuring distances visually, but it appears to be two segments each around 100 meters long. The speed limit for this section is 45 miles/hour. CB was cruising at 17-20 miles/hour, which is pretty close to its top speed.

As it completed the speed section, and approached the section with bale of hay, I was holding my breath and watching. Along with other teammates, I was standing on an bridge over the track and had a view straight on the track, looking at the bot approaching. CB was perfectly aligned to the middle line. An indication the software changes were working well. This section has two parts, first part with bales of hay on both sides of the track about 20 feet apart, and the second part with the bales about 10 feet apart. This time around CB approached the narrower section very well. It did dither a bit inside the narrow section, but did not attempt to climb the bales.

Once CB cleared the hay section, we had enough time to take one quick breath. The next section was simulating a 100 feet tunnel. The intent is to check how the bot behaves when it loses GPS signals. While we have known about this situation, we have not had the opportunity to test it ourselves. So far as CB is concerned, this situation was a complete surprise for her.

CB entered the tunnel well, straight in the middle. A very good sign. But about 20 feet into the tunnel, CB turned left and headed into the cement barriers forming the tunnel. Video shot by Scott shows CB skidding against the cement barrier. As it came out of the tunnel she made a hard left turn and ate her first cone.

Eating the cone must have made CB feel better, for very soon after she regained composure and avoided a card parked in the middle of the track. Then she approached the switchback, some sharp S-curves, went through them fine. After the switchback is a weird obstacle course, representing rocks and bushes on both sides of the track, and covering some part of the track. CB went through this part very well.

At this point CB had completed the difficult part of the track, the part that had narrow areas and small obstacles. The remaining section has wider tracks and the obstacles are much bigger.

I was mentally getting ready to do a victory dance. Just then we saw CB stop. Seconds, very long seconds, went by and she was still stopped. Turned into minutes, she was stopped. That’s not good news. CB doesn’t think that hard. If she is stopped this long there must be something bad.

The launch team was brought in to retrieve CB.

There was some satisfaction still. We did make some progress having completed 3/4th of the course.

The team is now analyzing data to find out the reason for the failure. You can be assured we will be back, as always.

– Arun Lakhotia

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