Sunday, October 28, 2007

DARPA Grand Challenge Semi-finals

Guess what we did yesterday? We attended the DARPA Urban Challenge semi-finals. Of course, we went to cheer on our hometown robot, Golem 3. The finals take place over Iris' birthday weekend so we decided to attend the semi-finals instead.

That's the evil Discovery Channel crew interviewing the team. Well, the crew members might not be personally evil, but they are supposed to be making a documentary. They are not supposed to write dialog in order to fit their storyline and force the "cast members" to read it. From what I read, every "reality" show does that. So the crew is no more or less evil than any other crew. Enough said. Just don't believe the "personal drama and conflict" you see on their show.

This year, the robotic cars have to navigate around traffic, parked cars and buildings-all while obeying California vehicle codes. Do not make potshots about how we drive crazy and ignore traffic codes. I have heard them all. (My favorite is the joke about how the more massive vehicle has the right of way.)

During the semi-finals, the robots attempt to navigate 3 courses. Before each course, like the minute before the start, the teams are given a USB memory stick with "the mission". The mission includes everything the robots need to know about the course and route. That means they know their expected course, have a map of the area, and know where the stop signs are, even though the signs are not posted. The top scorers, up to 20 robots, advance to the finals.

If you had a bunch of robotic cars driving around, would you want to put them out in traffic with "civilians"? The smart people at DARPA bought 47 Ford Tauruses, stripped their interiors and put full NASCAR roll bars and protective devices inside. The cars are driven by professional off-road race drivers. Parked cars are junkers bought and placed around the course. I have never watched NASCAR, either in person or on TV. In case there is another person in the US who also has not, here are interior shots of the cars.

The cockpit.

The back showing the roll cage.

Course A sounds simple. The robot has to merge into traffic and drive around the course as many times as they can in 45 minutes.

This is easier said than done. They have to make a left turn at a T-intersection, without right of way and with traffic coming in both directions. Many robots just froze at the beginning. If they made it through the first part, successfully merging into traffic, then they were able to navigate the rest of the course (mostly) uneventfully. This robot made a right turn on their first try, then froze on its second attempt. This team decided to rewrite their software and try another day. (That's better than the Porsche Cayenne that ran into the concrete barrier full-speed. Or the huge OshKosh truck that couldn't negotiate the turn at all.)

In course B, the cars enter a course that is not viewable by the spectators or the participants. The cars go in, but (with two exceptions) they don't come out. No wonder it was nicknamed "the maze". Team Lux, below, got through 80% of the course before time ran out. I congratulated them on a good showing. They responded in typical German manner.

Here they enter "the maze".

The commentator said that the car is the baby of the woman in black. I told Iris it was the woman's brainchild. But a quick look at the Team Lux website says that she has no technical involvement. She is the marketing chick, a booth babe. Oh, well, I don't have to tell Iris that.

The Team Lux robot is really slick. Their lidar system is hidden integrated below the headlamps. Their lidar system is used in many of the other robots in the competition.

Golem 3 also has a lidar system, but externally mounted. It is a relatively small, light and maneuverable robot.

At the other extreme, you have the MIT robot. It is the most heavily instrumented robot in the competition and has the most computational power under its hood. There are 40 "cores" inside of that SUV. Can you imagine the kind of cooling system required for that? Note that the windows are closed and they are driving around in the desert.

Everyone likes the Cajunbots. I like any team that carries art around to a robot competition.

Iris was more impressed with having a wide open area to play with and a big stick.

We don't see much sky at our house. I miss big sky views.

We close with Golem 3 successfully navigating a 4-way stop sign in course C. That's the one where they circumnavigate a residential subdivision. It stops short of the sign and then proceeds to the sign. I think its lidar system sensed some dust kicked up by a gust of wind. Twice, I felt a gust of wind and saw dust swirl. Each time, Golem 3 stopped and proceeded until the dust ahead cleared. Golem 3 got stuck at the same place as the Ford/Delphi robot just before it. On the third lap, those sneaky DARPA folks put up cones near a curve in the road; the robots were supposed to know that they needed to make a U-turn and go around that section of the subdivision. Most robots failed at that point. After a restart, the Ford group was able to make the U-turn, but then ran into a barrier. Golem 3 just stopped, even after they restarted the computer. It will be a long night two weeks of coding for all the teams.

You can see more on my uploaded videos page.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous18:57

    Grace, Thanks for the Urban Challenge coverage. My son is a member of the Gray Team out of New Orleans. Wish I was there!


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