Archive for September, 2005

Chase Team heading west with the bots

Wednesday, September 21st, 2005

Lafayette, LA – The CajunBot Chase Team, led by Danny Majors, left Lafayette around 10:30am on their way to Fontana, CA. The caravan consists of three vehicles, two hauling CajunBot and Ragin’Bot, and the third to provide logistics support along the way.

Besides Danny, other members of the Chase Team are Mike Spears, Jim Milligan, Adrian Aucoin, and Adam Lewis.

In anticipation of flights being disrupted by Hurricane Rita, we’ve also packed Suresh Golconda and Amit Puntambekar in the caravan. If I could have also sent Joshua, we would have had the bare minimum team necessary to operate the bots.

The rest of the team leaves on Friday evening by Continental Airlines.

Friends, Fans, and UL Alumni in California: Please come by and visit the team. We will be at Residence Inn Ontario Airport starting September 24th.

– Arun Lakhotia

CajunBot completes 2004 track in virtual environment

Saturday, September 17th, 2005

Lafayette, LA – CajunBot has completed the 2004 DARPA track, albeit in a virtual environment. Which means,  CajunBot software has run the entire 142.25 miles without the bot leaving the laboratory.While still quite far from the real thing, this is a significant test. Our first attempt to complete the course several months ago had failed about thirty miles short. That failure led to discovery of some significant weaknesses in our approach, which have now been addressed.
Now we can say with significant confidence that the software can chug for the distance without crashing due to conditions such as memory leak. That does not mean that the bot itself would not crash. All it says is that it is highly unlikely that the bot, which runs on Linux, will crash due to the ‘blue screen of death,’ borrowing from Windows(-haters) terminology.

– Arun Lakhotia

CajunBot decked up, team gear on the way

Saturday, September 17th, 2005

Lafayette, LA – With Pixus Printing, GolfBalls.Com, and Bell’s Sporting Goods on our side, you can be pretty sure CajunBot and the team will be looking good.Pixus Printing is undeniably the finest company in digital graphics. I now have first hand experience to say that. Early in the week I described to Max Hoyt some basic concepts by waving hands in the air. In barely two days, Valerie Martin, who was not even there to see me wave hands, had converted the idea into digital proofs. A few quick iterations on mail and phone, the job was on the shop floor, and next day out the door, before the end of the week.

We got decals for the bots, enough copies to keep changing every few days, magnetic decals for our vehicles, decals for trailers, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers to give around. Last night Max and Wayne came by and personally put the decals on CajunBot and the trailer. Good thinking on their part. This would not be a good time to find out if Adrian has a soft touch.

GolfBalls.Com, one of few successful clicks-and-bricks store, is the brainchild of Tom Cox. I am beginning to get a sense of how Tom built this enterprise. Tom is quick in making decision and quicker in execution. In less than 10 minutes from walking into his office, Tom had settled on sponsoring personalized golf caps for the team. I met him at the end of the day on Wednesday. Next morning, I had a proof sent by mail. While we were going through the formalities of getting approval to print logos, he had already setup the operation to print names of team members.
Tom runs his shop by the numbers. He has every conceivable statistic about his operation at his finger tips, and can compute ROI for the minutest transaction. He is not a person who gives away anything easily. And when he does give free merchandise, he makes sure they are branded with GolfBalls.Com logo.
For Tom to give away free caps, without GolfBalls.Com logo on them, means a lot. CajunBot sure has touched his heart (or else may be time is taking its toll).

The rest of the team gear is being put together by Bell’s Sporting Goods. Finding this shop was like going on a treasure hunt. Danny asked me Monday morning to visit them before12:00noon so they could initiate the order. I called John Bordelon and was surprised to find that 12:00noon means 12:00noon. This company still work by the clock, and I could not ask John to hold on a few minutes into lunch time. It would have jeopardized the whole operation. Given the seriousness of being on time, I was pretty proud of myself when I made it to their doors on Jefferson Street at 11:45am. But guess what. There on that door was hanging a big sign – our office has moved to XYZ Johnston Street – a street which is jam packed during lunch hour. So there I was crawling through the traffic while John was enjoying his lunch.
I was expecting Bell’s to be a small place. I was not really prepared to see what I found. This is a pretty big store, on a scale similar to Academy Sports not too far down the street.

It was good thinking on John’s part to get his lunch first. What was supposed to be a visit to approve the design (and, more so, the funds), turned into a meeting to redesign the team gear. It was hard to resist redesigning because John had a catalogue full of some really cool clothes. And Danny, flamboyant in his talk, had picked some really simple red shirts. Having known of the alternatives available, it would have been pretty hard for me to enjoy the previous choice.

Bell’s Sporting Goods is a pretty old, established enterprise. Which means they use computers mostly for printing invoices, and to some extent to send emails. (That explains whey you cannot click on this company’s name.) John likes to do all the work with pen and paper. He is not the kind who’d use spreadsheet. And I do not like to count, let alone add and multiply numbers. So we ran into some cultural differences.

Though John is yet to enter the digital age, when it comes to execution he is just as good as Max and Tom. Even before I had reached his office, based on the order size and schedule given by Danny, he had scheduled the emroidery staff to be available on weekend and to hold off any other order. As soon as I finalized on the new design, he was on the phone getting the material shipped from Dallas. I visited him yesterday and he is expecting to finish all of the clothing by this weekend.

When you have people like Max, Tom, and John you understand why people love Lafayette, LA. This town is packed with people like them. People who do world-class quality work with down-to-earth attitude.

– Arun Lakhotia

CajunBot together again

Friday, September 16th, 2005

Lafayette, LA – CajunBot is running again. The gas leak issue is fixed. Thanks to Billy in the UL Car Pool for loaning the motor lift, we did not need to dismantle the complete structure to get to the gas tank. We were able to lift the whole metal structure along with all the computers and sensors. What would have been a full day job, was reduced to a barely a few hours.Joshua has also completed installing DARPA black box. This is a heavy duty equipment that DARPA requires to be mounted on each vehicle. It has a big ole antenna that spits out information about the vehicle. DARPA uses this to track each vehicle. We have been told to not stay too close to this equipment, or else it may cause some real long term harm.

The black box connects to our electronics and provides two inputs: PAUSE and DISABLE. These are the only two commands that can be send to the bot once it starts rolling. The PAUSE command asks the machine to stop, but keep the computers and engine humming. The DISABLE command tells the machine to shutdown and cut the engine. Once the DISABLE command is given the bot is out of the game.

The testing team, Amit, Vidhya, Santhosh, and Suresh have reported some successful runs. All the systems are behaving well. Its been over a week since the bot ran, so this is a very welcome sight.

– Arun Lakhotia

CajunBot still recovering

Sunday, September 11th, 2005

Lafayette, LA – CajunBot is still recovering. We had her back together three days ago. But then the brand new Kohler Command 27 engine gave up. Its head gasket blew up, and she was back in the shop at Southland Engines.We had Southland pull out the engine, while we could continue working on the bot. On the way back from Southland we figured it was time to fill her upto capacity. With her new 20 gallon tank from Summit Racing and an older 12 gallon tank connected in series, she has plenty fuel to last 15 hours. Turned out this was the first time she was filled to capacity with her new tank.

The tubing we had connected to the vent had a slow leak. By morning the lab was smelling of gas.

That of course changed the whole plan. The aluminum frame meticulously manufactured by BEGNAUD and the Hardigg case had to come off.

Though the engine is back from Southland, we are now waiting on a new hose end from Summit Racing.

While we wait, the work has not stopped. Joshua has finished putting together the new electronic box, the box that houses our home-grown electronics to connect to actuators, servos, RC Control, lights, siren, pause, kill, etc. This is the fourth generation box on CajunBot, and Joshua has been involved in developing each of them. The first generation consisted of cards screwed on a wooden box and wires running point-to-point. The current version is rack mounted, with proper connectors, and all.

In the interim Pixus Printing is working on decals to go on the bot.

By following Friday, I believe CajunBot should be running again, this time with all of its new components and spiffy new decals from Pixus.

Katrina did deliver a good punch. But it was not a knock-out. We will be back on our feet soon.

– Arun Lakhotia

Katrina throws in a wrench

Thursday, September 1st, 2005

Lafayette, LA – Just when we had scheduled to put CB back together, Hurricane Katrina showed up on the radar screen. What we thought would be yet another hurricane, a few days lost, and back to work, has turned into a life-changing phenomenon, one that always happens to others or in Hollywood movies.While Lafayette, the home of CB, was spared by Katrina, its after effects are nonetheless as bad as having taken a direct hit. Several members of the team were born and/or brought up in the New Orleans area. Their parents, siblings, cousins, friends, and foes all pretty much live in that area. The hurricane has literally wiped out the homes and belongings of their entire clans and support system.

To make it very graphic, one team members knows eight families, all directly related by blood or marriage, who have turned into refugees, with their homes swallowed by the floods.

Since very early stages, Team CajunBot has weathered challenges on a daily basis. However, those challenges were quite different, requiring essentially McGywer-like instinct to create solutions from day-to-day like things, such as duct tape and zip tie.

The wrench thrown by Katrina has created a completely different challenge. The team members who are used to devoting every waking hour to CajunBot have essentially been asked to choose: CajunBot or family and friends.  That sure is a pretty cruel test just a few weeks before the NQE opens.

What Katrina probably does not know is that Team CajunBot is one big extended family. The pain of one member is shared by all. When one of our team member is down, we reach out to help and also stand up to fill the person’s place.

As I write this (in the middle of the night) work continues in the lab with reorganized priorities and responsibilities. There is a determination in the lab, just as in rest of Louisiana, that we will not let Katrina get us down.

Friends and fans, you can help in many ways. Please support the efforts of the many charitable organizations in bringing relief to the people rendered homeless and refugees. After all you too are part of the team.

– Arun Lakhotia