Archive for October, 2005

Heading to Primm, connected by Verizon Access

Thursday, October 6th, 2005

I-15 East, near Barstow: Its about 2pm Pacific Time. We are on the way to Primm, nearing Barstow. I am connected using Verizon Broadband wireless access, thanks to Espion International. I am told that Espion’s Interceptor has been cited in Network World Magazine for its great spam fighting ability. Proud of you Murali, the author of this product, and one of the Three McGyvers.

– Arun Lakhotia

Wednesday Afternoon

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

Fontana, CA – At 1:45 we had to gather in front of the main grandstands for a group picture of all of the teams. It was a long morning waiting for the announcement so we all went off-site to eat. Most days our chase team has been bringing in food for us at the track. (Good stuff I might add.) But we needed to get away to get our minds off of things.Everyone was nervous as we took the pictures. Then Dr. Tether welcomed everyone and complimented everyone’s performance. He made the same statements that everyone who is familiar with last year’s event had been making: the amount of improvement is spectacular and everyone is taking notice.

Then he said that, unfortunately, he would only be able to take 20 entries to the final. As I said in my last note I had expected more than 20 to be chosen. He was very convincing and I was not feeling very good as he read out the 20 team names. As I expected we were not one of the 20. Then the guy who was in charge of the Grand Challenge event itself spoke up and said that they could take 3 more teams. This was obviously pre-arranged to add to the drama. It worked. Cajunbot was the first of the additional three teams called out. We all cheered and hollered. Quite a moment.

Joshua yelled out “That wasn’t funny” at the top of his lungs.

To be fair, Dr. Tether said that the names he called out were in no particular order. So we don’t know if we were in the top 20 or not. Matters not now, we are going to the final!

He announced the top 3 teams and they were Stanford and the two CMU teams. Incredibly the Stanford team had 4 absolutely clean runs but were ranked second. I still can’t believe the emphasis that speed is being given over accuracy and precision. Given the purpose of this project, I would much rather my autonomous shipment of supplies actually get to where it is going rather than run into an obstacle somewhere, even if it takes a few more minutes to get there. But that’s just me.

So tonight we are relaxing. Some of the guys found a racetrack near here where you can race mini race cars. Others are just hanging around the hotel. I am sure there will be a team meal this evening.

Tomorrow morning Arun and Scott have a team leader’s meeting at 8 and we will probably depart the speedway at about 9 or so. We will check in to Buffalo Bill’s in Primm. On Friday there will be some test runs given to the finalists. We will find out details about that tomorrow morning. Only thing left after that is the final.

We know we can’t win on speed so we are going for the “pass the most vehicles” prize. Who knows, the tortoise might beat all the hares again!

– Patrick Landry

CajunBot in DARPA final

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

Fontana, CA – CajunBot is a finalist in the DARPA Grand Challenge.This is incredibly exciting. After a week of roller-coaster ride it is great to be in the finalist. DARPA selected 23 finalists, instead of 20.

The list of finalists can be found at the following link on DARPA site.

Its been very rough 10 days, and we are very pleased and excited to be in the finals.

If there is someone I can identify who made all the difference in this team going to Primm they would be Gina and George of the 2 The Max TVs. First they gave us a drive chain in the middle of the night. When we went back to them for a transmission, they gave us a whole, complete, brand new MAX IV to use as a parts repository. Mind it, they did this for complete strangers, people from another State, with no formal paperwork.

– Arun Lakhotia

Still waiting, results in 45 minutes

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

Fontana, CA – Results will be out in about 45 minutes. We are heading out for team pictures, of all the participants. After that is the announcement. Keeping fingers crossed.

– Arun Lakhotia

Wednesday Morning

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

Fontana, CA – We had our 6th run yesterday just after lunch. I think there were 7 teams asked to run. The bot was stopped by a car obstacle about 150 yards from the finish. It ran really well. The only obstacle after that was the tank trap. Quite dissappointing.

We are still having problems with the bot seeing “false obstacles” in its path, especially when it is bouncing a lot. For some reason we are also having difficulty seeing the last two cars on the NQE track. We detected them very late and narrowly avoided missing them on our two complete runs.

Sunset at the Speedway

Team Jefferson crash

So there is a group picture scheduled this morning at 11 and then the press coference at 2pm where they will announce the finalists.

I feel pretty confident that we will in the final. I would be a lot more confident had we finished that last run. If they allow only 20 teams into the final then we may not make it. That would be due to our missed run from the transmission problem and the last run that we did not finish. I think there are 20 teams with 3 complete runs and that would pretty much rule us out. But DARPA has allowed more than the announced minimum number at every stage of this process so far so I think that there will be more than 20 finalists.

We hear that the first part of the Grand Challenge course this year is easier than last. I assume DARPA would like to have some bots go a long distance this year.

The press last year was not so good for them. With the level of competition I have seen here so far I am confident that some vehicles will go very far this year. If we get in I think we will go a long ways.

I am still not so sure that anyone will finish. DARPA will certainly put some challenging portions on the track. And it only takes one mistake to stop one of these vehicles. But I must admit that the top 5 or so bots here this year are incredibly impressive.

It is very difficult to determine what DARPA is using as criteria for judging the bots. We don’t know if DARPA will rank a team higher if it completes the course qickly yet misses a few gates or contacts an obstacle, or if they will rank a team higher who make a clean run but gets caught up on ab obstacle 150 yards from the finish.

We have made two complete runs, both of which were pretty clean. We have replaced chains and a transmission in our vehicle. I am very satisfied with our effort. Now it is just up to the judges. I am sure you will be able to get the news fro www.grandchallenge.org or www.cajunbot.com when the announcement is made but I will try to get connected this afternoon for another post before we start tearing things down.

One last thing. There was a pretty impressive crash Monday after our first run. Team Jefferson came out of the tunnel and had apparently lost GPS signal. They turned left about 45 degrees and then sped across the track at waht looked like full throttle directly into one of the K barriers. There were people lined up against the barrier but the were all able to get out of the way. The vehicle’s impact on the barrier moved it about 4 feet.

– Patrick Landry

Chase Team cooks up Jambalaya

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

Fontana, CA – Yesterday during lunch the CajunBot Chase Team cooked up Jambalaya, a dish very similar to Biryani. Jim setup his kitchen between two trailers, reasonably out of sight of people. Little did he know that one could easily find him by following the aroma. Danny cooked vegetarian version of the Jambalaya.While the food was good, the team consensus was, “Brother Ray Majors, Wish you were here.”

Talking about Jim, there is an ongoing challenge in the team — who can put Jim in the longest loop. Here is how it goes. We have found that Jim likes to repeat what you say. For instance, if you say “the weather is good today”, he’d say “it sure is good today”. The challenge is how many times can you make him say the same thing before he notices he is in a loop (or you start laughing and cannot take it any more).

I’ve learned that Murali is ahead in this race with a loop count of three. He stopped because he could not take it any more.

– Arun Lakhotia

Webtraffic registers 55,000 page views, Firefly responds by upgrading server

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

Fontana, CA – Yesterday, the cajunbot.com site registered 55,000 page views. That is an amazing number of CajunBot (and Ragin’ Cajun) fans around the world.Firefly Digital, our sponsor and webhosting provider, responded quickly by upgrading the servers.

Beyond hosting our website, Firefly has also provided to us the use of their marvelous content management tool Firefly Gadget. This tool makes it remarkably easy to add journal entries, upload images, documents, etc.

Mike Spears, one of the principal’s of Firefly, is with us in Fontana as part of the Chase Team.

– Arun Lakhotia

Sitting on the edge, hit car at the tail end of sixth run

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

Fontana, CA – CB completed qualifying run #5 very well. Soon after we were amongst seven teams called for run #6. CB completed almost completed the whole track. About 100ft short of the finish line she ran into the side of a parked car. It did not have enough power to move the car out of the way, as has been done by several other vehicles.

CB meets rental car
Courtesy: Dr. Charles Reinholtz, Virginia Tech

The post analysis of data indicates CB ‘saw’ the vehicle, and was steering away from it, but was 6 inches too close to the vehicle. The good news is CB did not hit the vehicle with its sensor frame. The sensor frame is not protected by a bumper. CB is already front heavy, adding a bumper would increase the possibility that it will roll as its coming down hill.

At this point the team is sitting on the edge. We have did all we could and given our best. All we can do now is hurry up and wait (an expression courtesy – Patrick and Scott).

– Arun Lakhotia

Monday Evening Update

Tuesday, October 4th, 2005

Fontana, CA – We completed the entire qualification course today. We didn’t hit any obstacles. There are quite a few “gates” set up on the couirse made up of two orange traffic cones which you are supposed to go between. I think we missed three gates.

They pared down the contestants late this afternoon. As far as we can tell there is a group of 10 teams which DARPA has already decided are in the final. Those teams have not been asked to run tomorrow.

The next group is a group of 18 teams which have all done fairly well. We are in that group and will be running tomorrow morning on the same course we completed today.

The last group is the group of teams who have not done so well. They will run a different course tomorrow. We are surmising that these teams have already been elimitated from the finalists and the new course will be easier so that the teams can complete a course before they leave.

The bit about who has made the race and who has not is all speculation on our part. All we know for sure is that some teams are not being asked to run tomorrow, those who have done well are being grouped together and are being asked to run the same course, and those who have not done so well have been grouped together and are being asked to run a differenet course.

If our guesses are correct that means that we have to beat 8 of the 18 teams in the second group in order to get to the finals.

The software team has decided to make no changes to the configuration we ran today except that we will decrease the maximum speed of the vehicle on the high-speed sections. One of those sections is extremely bumpy and our laser scanners did not operate well when the bot was being thrashed about.

– Patrick Landry

Team CajunBot and 6 other Teams Called for 6th Run

Tuesday, October 4th, 2005

News arrived minutes ago that CajunBot and six other teams would be required to perform a 6th qualification run on the NQE course. Nobody is sure what this news means, but some suspect the 6th run will be used to select the final field for the race Saturday.Eager to prove itself, CajunBot was pleased by this news. On the other hand, Team CajunBot’s mood shifted from relaxed to anxious, as it always turns when the ‘Bot prepares to hit the track.

The team is gearing up for the run, but not on an empty stomach. Danny and Jim of the chase team whipped up a Cajun Jambalaya, including a vegetarian version that was quite tasty. The smells and taste of home were nice treats on the day.

Stay tuned for word on the results of Run 6.

— Mike Spears