Off to the races!

Today I spent the afternoon at my house rewriting the visualization code in perl and OpenGL. I ended up getting bout 60 to 100 frames per second and the LADAR data now plots in real time and looks real good. I put in waypoint plotting code so we can see big squares where the waypoints are. . The car is represented as a yellow triangle pointing in the direction given to us by gps. The velocity is plotted along the bottom as a bar graph.

So I got up to El Segundo at about 7pm and everyone is frantically trying to get the truck ready for the drive to the California Speedway in Fontana for the pre-meating at 9pm. I Basically just stood around and watched as the hardware guys tried to get a new hall-effect sensor working that used graderature modulation to do the velocity instead of just a single signal. It didn’t work so they put the old one back on. It turns out that wasn’t working either but we didn’t find it out till we were on the road. Jim and I didn’t even get on the road until 8:45pm. So we expected to be late to the meeting.

So Josh installed a new “feature” to the estop hardware where when the e-stop triggers, it engages the brakes in addition to killing the engine. Jim wanted him to put a single switch bypass so that we could drive on the highway safely, but Josh kept resisting. So they finally stopped arguing and sped off down the 105.

Jim had made a software change to the LADAR code and it suddenly stopped working. Of course, he had forgotten that he had made the change so we (erroneously) blamed the malfunction on the LADAR’s finicky state machine that we sometimes get out of sync with. So he kept trying to reset the LADAR by flicking it’s power switch while continually stopped and restarted our code hoping that one time the LADAR would come up. All while driving 60 mph on the freeway.

So Jim goes to flick the switch and suddenly we are braking to a stop in the middle of traffic on a major LA freeway. Uh Oh. We quickly figure out the e-stop has activated and killed the engine. Jim frantically flicks the switch back, hits the hazard light, starts the car (though not in that particular order, and some of them happened multiple times) while I try to click back into our program to enter the cryptic “bd” command to dump the brake pressure so we can move again. It lasted a couple of seconds, but it felt like 5 minutes. I was just sure that someone was going to smash into our rear end and was continually bracing for the impact while we got it back going again.

Josh was right behind us and had to swerve out of the way to avoid smashing his BMW and our cool robot truck. We let him have it later about the override switch. Amazingly, he is still resisting.

So then we get to the speedway and get our credentials for the week (wristband). We then get ushered to our garage in the pit area of the speedway where we are immediately surrounded by a group of teenagers from the Palos Verdes high school team. Their car has been donated by Acura and has been washed recently, while ours is a souped up truck. The difference is striking…

We meet our DARPA TLOs (team liason officers) Tim and Pete. They are real nice and dedicated to getting us qualified for the race. They are also the people, should we actually get qualified, that will tail our vehicle and make sure it doesn’t crash.

We discover that we are not allowed to remove the truck from the premises once we have entered, so Jim and I drive around in circles from 2am to 4:30am while Tim the DARPA guy tails us in his car (the rules say that we have to remain in eyesight of one of our TLOs when our vehicle is moving). We get some good data but some troubling data as well: our car is veering off the path for some reason, even though it seems to turn corners correctly when we come to the given way point. Jim theorizes that a sign is wrong somewhere in the controller but we are just too tired to really think about it so he, Richard, and I head back to Richards hotel room and crash for 2 hours.

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