Archive for November, 2007

CajunBot’s celebration

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Fans, Friends, and Family — here is a chance to celebrate with us.  UL is organizing a ceremony to recognize the team and its sponsors for the accomplishments of CajunBot.Date: Thursday, November 8th
Time: 11:00am
Place: Martin Hall, Parking lot

Highlight: Medallion presentation by Gov. Blanco

The ceremony is open to all. Please arrive and assemble by 10:30am.

– Arun Lakhotia

Urban Challenge final anti-climactic

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

November 3, 2007 (2330hrs), VICTORVILLE, CA.  — The Urban Challenge Final was very anticlimactic. After the intense semifinal evaluation, we were expecting a real intense final. But it turned out, the semifinal was the real grill. The final was mellow, probably designed to prevent a repeat of 2004 GC.The controlled traffic that the finalists encountered was pretty limited. Unlike the NQE test in in Area A, there were no back to back cars at any intersection. Once one or two cars had passed there was ample time for a bot to make a turn. In any case, the traffic appeared to be limited to the loop immediately after the start. There did not appear to be any additional human traffic in the neighborhood.

The gauntlet or the neighborhood scenario, with cars parked on both side of the road, was no where to be seen. There was only one instance where one robot had to travel in a region where cars were stalled/stopped (not parked) on both sides.  The tests in Area B were an overkill, with 10-15 cars on both side of the road. A simulated neighborhood with bots traveling from both sides would have raised the bar, and made it a real challenge. In the absence of such a scenario, it sure feels we wasted a lot of time developing a capability that was irrelevant for the final.

There was only one scenario that CajunBot could possibly not handle. It was the drive through off-road terrain with very sparse waypoints. But the capability we developed for Area B took us half-way in that direction, and we had two more days to complete the work. So we would surely have had the capability in place.

The bots did not have to replan their path, a major part of the test in Area C. All they needed to do was follow precedence at intersection.

All in all, the perception of our team and others is the final event was a big let down.

– Arun Lakhotia

Cajun Cookout draws around 300 people

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

November 3, 2007 (0630 hrs), VICTORVILLE, CA – The Cajun Cookout was a big hit. In the words of Dr. Tether, DARPA Chief, “its better than last time.”  The event was announced to be held at “Mid-day”, leaving enough flexibility for the cooks.  By 11:30 there was a crowd gathering around. Some were circling the tent, coming back every few minutes to check if the food was served.The food also drew the stunt and race car drivers. One of them asked us about video footage of him desperately cutting out of CajunBot’s path. He was promptly named by Scott as Drama Queen. The video shows his car was far enough away. The Drama Queen went into defensive, explaining that he cannot guess what the robot will do, so he has to react early enough. Which is quite fair. But his name stuck nonetheless.

The cookout drew DARPA program managers, media crew, sponsors, and other teams. Food breaks barriers, especially as good as Brother Majors cooking.

The event also gave opportunity for the university’s PR crew Christine Payton and Eric Maron to hand out UL goodies. They had plenty to give away — UL pins, Ragin’Cajun spice (only university with its own branded spice), T-shirts, and all.

Charlie “the voice of DARPA” and also the biggest fan of our team almost did not get any crawfish. He had been busy with the practice runs. By the time he was free the crawfish was almost all gone, but for a scoop saved specially for him by Brother Majors.

– Arun Lakhotia

Majors family arrives for a Cajun cookout

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

November 2, 2007 (0730hrs), VICTORVILLE, CA.  In keeping with the tradition established in the first Grand Challenge, the Majors family arrived yesterday for the Cajun Cookout. The entourage is led by Brother Ray Majors, the person who gave this project the first break. He gave us the 6-wheeled ATV that got us rolling. He is joined with his brother John Majors who, through his company Quality Transport, Inc, has been kindly supporting us by providing vehicles and trailers to haul the bots back and forth from California. Mark Majors, of MedExpress Ambulance Service, another sponsor, and his youngest son close the pack along with Danny Majors, who is part of our team.In the backdrop of the several ‘Did Not Qualifiers’ (DNQs) that have packed and left, the Majors family continuing the cookout is an anathema. But it further reinforces the Cajun spirit already very well known in the DARPA circle. We play hard, lick our wounds, and enjoy life nonetheless.

The veterans of the challenges, which includes DARPA officials, media, and other team members, look forward to the event. We were asked at checkin whether we were having a cookout. The same question was popped up  by many when it was announced Team CajunBot DNQed.

The Majors woke up early and took off shopping. They plan to serve about 200 people. That calls for buying and cutting a load of onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and sausages. While all of these ingredients will be bought locally, they have carried with them twenty (correction) pounds of Louisiana crawfish tails. In keeping with the tradition the crawfish has been sponsored by Andre Leger of Chez Francois.

The Majors will spend the next four hours cutting all the ingredients and cooking. They will cook right at our hospitality tent. Cooking with open fire outside in the hubub of activity is a very big deal. Its a big deal when you know that millions were displaced a few weeks ago by forest fires. This area is a tinder box. One spark could get the whole place aflame. But, in keeping with another tradition, DARPA went out of their way to get permit for the open fire cooking. The fire marshall is invited.

We started cranking again. Today we will work on getting CajunBot opertional again. The hit has misaligned her sensors. After realigning the sensors, we plan to do some test runs, and then bring her offroad (where a Jeep really belongs). Our goal is to collect data for conditions we cannot find in Louisiana.

– Arun Lakhotia

Finalists announced, could have made it with less aggression

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

November 1, 2007 (1600 hrs), VICTORVILLE, CA. Earlier in the day DARPA announced the finalists. As expected we were not in the list of 11 that made the cut.I have not kept up with the performance of other teams. My focus has been on moving our team forward.

But based on what we hear, it looks like we went a bit too aggressive on Area B. Our goal was to finish that area, just as we had finished the other two. We knew we could not complete one segment of Area B, and worked on developing the capabilities needed. Had we left that capabilitiy alone, CajunBot would have just reached that troublesome area and stopped. That could just have us qualified for the finals. The most overriding requirement for any vehicle to be in the challenge is SAFETY. By going aggressive we ended up violating that requirement, and getting knocked out all together.

Almost a year ago when I was getting the team together, the intent was to shoot for a win. We had already been in two challenges. In the last two challenges, we knew going in that we did not have the chance to win. We were quite happy being in the challenge. It was not the same this time. The excitement of being in the challenge had worn out. Besides, based on past experience we knew we had the capability to win. In the past we just did not shoot high enough.

We took the neighborhood scenario of Area B as a capability needed to win. Besides, since we completed the other two areas, it made sense that we complete this scenario as well.

It turns out that some of the teams that qualified for the final did not even reach the neighborhood scenario in Area B. To their credit, they were safe. If their vehicle had a chance of hitting something it would simply stop. That’s how CajunBot would have been had we not taken the neighborhood scenario seriously.

I just hope that the tests DARPA created truly reflect the actual challenge. It would be a shame if they mellow down the challenge so that someone can win.

– Arun Lakhotia