AIMing for Automated Vehicles

Paul F. Grayson, AIMing for Automated Vehicles blog, Control Engineering

The U.S. armed forces have had smart weapons for a long time now. It is just recently that they realized they need smart supply trucks. Hi, I am Paul F. Grayson, Team Leader of American Industrial Magic (AIM), one of last remaining teams of the 390 teams that worked on vehicles for the DARPA Grand Challenge series of unmanned vehicle races. AIM is working to save soldiers lives by searching for ways to make driverless Army supply trucks affordable. AIM is funded by donations from individuals like you who want to speed up the fielding of this life-saving technology. With this blog, you can look over my shoulder while I and my team work on  this important technology. You will get a chance to look into the world of unmanned robotic vehicles, see some of the things that I see, and puzzle over the challenges of making vehicles driverless. Welcome to my world!

 

 

FIRST Robotics Team 3767: Reveal day didn't reveal as much as expected

Continued: Forty-student comprise FIRST Robotics Team 3767; I'm one of the 8 team Mentors. Their first competition will be March 4 and 5, 2011 – just six weeks away. That will be followed by another in Troy, MI a few weeks later.

January 13, 2011


One fourth of FIRST Robotics Team 3767 outside Robotics classroom B101 with the partially completed team mascot WALL-e. Photo by Paul F. Grayson, Control Engineering bloggerContinued from last post: Forty-student comprise FIRST Robotics Team 3767; I'm one of the 8 team Mentors.  Their first competition will be March 4 and 5, 2011 – just six weeks away. That will be followed by another in Troy, MI a few weeks later.

THE INVITATION – watch for yours.  You should be getting an invitation to be a Mentor to a FIRST Robotics Competition Team in your neighborhood, if not, find them and volunteer.  FIRST is the best thing happening in education now, it is pure STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).  Communities and schools are getting into the program and supporting it with a great deal of enthusiasm – it is putting the fun back into education, and everyone wants to be part of that.

My invitation came in the form of a phone call late one evening recently from Mike Wilson, a Math teacher at Traverse City West Senior High School. He was cold calling engineers in the neighborhood from a list he had and had not made the connection as to who I was. My wife is a schoolteacher and Mike used to work with her not long ago. He did not realize that until later and called back to confirm it.

THE REGISTRATION PROCESS – OR HOW TO THIN THE HERD While trying to get through the online registration process: I found that the Internet does not work as well as one would hope that it would.  Nor are web designers aware of what it takes to make a massive website user friendly for first time users. I was embarrassed that I had to have a person on the phone walk me through the registration maze since I was supposedly being asked to help based on my technical expertise. 

Several independent sources told me in confidence that they suspected that the Byzantine registration process was actually the first step to see if you were capable of robotics. They each said they suspected that FIRST was implying that “if you cannot find your way through the registration process you have no business trying to build a robot.”  I tend to agree with them, it does look like a first sorting out or heard thinning process. With a little help from my friends, I was able to get through it, proving the value of it being on a team. Green shirts pictured here are FIRST Robotics Team 3767 at the 1-8-2011 FIRST Robotics Competition Kick Off Party. The students are listening to advice from older teams while counting down to the BIG REVEAL announcement via nationwide simultaneous satellite feed. Photo by Paul F. Grayson for Control Engineering

THE KICK OFF PARTY

FIRST Robotics Competition teams are numbered in the order they joined the FIRST organization. The oldest teams have the lowest numbers.  Older teams have the advantage of having been through it all before.  Even though the people on their team change from year to year, their institutional memory puts them miles ahead of a Rookie Team.  Their gradually growing stockpile of designs and parts from other years to draw upon for construction and inspiration helps them too.

Rumors at the party were “no one can win the competition their first year,”  “No team can win using the parts provided in the basic kit.”  “The pizza man is looking for who ordered 4 pizzas,” and “the 40 subs ordered by FIRST Robotics Team 3767 are in the conference  room.”  I can tell you that some of the rumors were true, especially the one about the subs we had been waiting for all morning.

I could tell I was in trouble at the kickoff party from the start. Like many of us who have been around big engines for many years, I have an occupational hearing loss. I have trouble hearing in rooms that have a lot of reverb like high school cafeterias. The small discussion groups were something of a loss for me.  I could only hear the people on each side of me. I could see the mouths of others around the table moving but could not separate their voices from the din. I chose then to take photographs and roam from group to group; to getting a sense of what was being said and hoping the younger ones on the team were taking good notes.  We counted down the minutes to the BIG REVEAL.

THE BIG REVEAL

It did not happen for us at the scheduled time. The satellite feed was not working; they tried to stream the signal to the big screens in the cafeteria via the internet but it looked as if the server were overloaded. There was no sound and the picture was frozen. One of the Mentors on FIRST Robotics Team 3767 went in search of the buildings IT people. It was Saturday; they were not there. Another went to one of the smaller laptops driving one of the screens and after turning up the volume in three separate places was able to let us hear the distorted and halting audio that matched the frozen images that changed every five or ten seconds.

HELP FROM NASA

NASA had made a big deal about the fact that they would be handling the communications for this USA wide broadcast of speeches by dignitaries and finally the all important REVEAL of the tasks that the robots would be required to perform, the scoring method, the details of the game, and the details of the field upon which the game would be played. None of that happened at our location.  The consensus was that this was yet another test to see what we teams would do in a crisis and that this was a test of how we would handle a nearly complete breakdown of communications. Trying to go to the FIRST website to download clips and documents finally released – documents such as the RULES for the contest were met with slow or halting downloads.

Eventually we got the game chapter of the contest rules, about one tenth of the overall rules, printed out, copied, and passed out the 12 teams present.

As late as it was in the day, this was enough to start. The next day, Sunday, FIRST Robotics Team 3767, exhausted by the long hours and stress leading up to the FIRST Robotics Competition Kickoff Party, rested.

Also see Inside FIRST Robotics, Team 3767, first post - getting started.

Cannot see a comments box below and want to comment or offer a question? Also see Inside FIRST Robotics, Team 3767, second post - Reveal Day.

GO ROBOTS !

Paul F. Grayson - 4-H Leader

TC Robotics 4-H Club

"Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fun"

390 4-Mile Rd. S.

Traverse City, MI 49696

(231) 883-4463 cell

pgrayson(at)aimagic.org

http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/TCRobotics4-HClub