4 May 2005 Nic   » (Master)

May 3rd, 2005

My overall impression of the site visit was that it didn't go very well, but the site visitors made sure to note all the good points they saw. Each team gets three trial runs through their course while avoiding garbage cans for obstacles. The first run of ours the Expeditor drove off course and showed some strange wandering behavior until the last 80 meters of the 275 meter run where it drove down the center of the route. At this point the steering broke. I took a part back home and re-soldered some connections, returned, and we tried to continue the site visit, but, as with any demonstration, it seems, it refused to work; several other parts including the computer unexplainably broke. With only 40 minutes to go there wasn't time to make repairs, so instead of getting our other two runs I explained the software in detail and they asked some questions about the neural network technology, as well as questions about our ability to prepare the Expeditor in time for the Grand Challenge and fund our trip down there and such.

The problem that caused it to wander off course is its inability to determine its heading. Even with a new $400 GPS it didn't update the heading quick enough, and the dead reckoning wasn't accurate enough. I've looked into the problem (a little late) and determined that it needs a dual- antenna GPS in order to give instantaneous heading information - a standard single-antenna GPS averages position data to find heading, and when the GPS is moving forward the average position will be somewhere behind it, and therefor the heading will lag. I would also use some gyros to ensure precise and accurate heading at all times.

As for our chances to getting in the race, my opinion is that they aren't all that good, but I wouldn't count out the possibility - some of the more developed teams from last year's race are pretty intimidating, but I'm guessing only 20 teams or so could run the course hands down, and as 40 teams will be invited to the national qualification event there's room for some others. Maybe our unique-factor will help us out too.

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