Lunch Break Is Over; More Attempts To Follow

We have to leave soon to catch our flight back to St Louis, so here’s a quick update…….
This morning’s record-breaking (for us) run took place without any GPS input, so the ‘bot didn’t know which way to go at a fork in the road. James Anderson dialed in a little GPS influence on the second run, but it didn’t help much.
During lunch the crew increased the GPS factor and ran some more tests, the results of which really have the Miners pumped for more afternoon success. We’ll stick around to cover the 3rd heat, but any other reports will be texted to us by Chris Painter.
No matter what happens 2011 will be the Miners’ most successful IGVC obstacle course ever. We kid them about last year’s 19-inch foray, but if memory serves the best S&T has done here was 22 feet down the course. The 2011 run was was almost exactly eight times that far.
Pretty impressive!

Robo-Miners Are ROCKIN’! Set School Record!

IGVCSUN_3105.jpgWhat a spectacular rally, and Grandma, what big smiles the team is wearing!
S&T got things worked out last night and qualified for the IGVC obstacle course early this morning, only the 18th team out of 43 to do so. By 10:00 a.m. JΩTron was scooting around the course like a three-year-old chasing butterflies, only with more control. The drive batteries are all topped off, redesigning the drive system is paying huge dividends, and in its first attempt JΩTron sprinted 174 feet down the obstacle course, obliterating Aluminator’s 2010 distance of ,uh, nineteen inches*. Even better news? It did this with the GPS systems temporarily disconnected, so once all is back on track JΩTron should do even better!
It the ‘bot’s second heat it stayed between the lines and swept past barrel after barrel until something caused it to veer off course. Most of the other machines running in heat #2 barely got one third as far as the Miners, so things are looking very good. It will be very tough to crack the leader board because half a dozen teams have been running since yesterday afternoon, but they’ve got nearly 5 hours left to improve.
In the meantime, some schools are dropping out and heading home early. Maybe due to indecipherable code, disastrous mechanical failure, or both. One unlucky team had their robot catch fire. The real issue? It was in the college van while the team was headed to Oakland University. Seems their batteries shifted and shorted out on the chassis, quickly filling the van with smoke. They managed to douse the flames on the side of the road, and even rebuilt the machine at IGVC, but that consumed so much of their time they failed to qualify.
More to follow in a few hours.
* In all fairness, the 2010 Miners got the AI systems worked out very late in the competition, so when the machine hit the course its batteries were completely shot. It happens.

Not Qualified. Yet.

JΩTron still doesn’t want to play. There’s still some code issues with the GPS system that’ll take a few (?) more hours to straighten out.
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Last night the robot crew got the royal treatment from the Miner Alumni Association’s Motor City Section. Dale Norse hosted a great cookout at his home in Milford, Michigan attended by several alums and design team veterans. It was a great break from eating out of a cooler, and fun for the team to give their design presentation to a friendly crowd.
Tomorrow the IGVC folks’ll continue running the obstacle course heats while still leaving a window open for more teams to qualify. Let’s see if JΩTron won’t be out there in the thick of things.

Rookie Jordanian Team Hanging In There

The German-Jordanian University (GJU) , based in Amman, Jordan, is one of several rookie teams at IGVC 2011. Their school name describes the partnership the Jordanian school has established with German universities and industry.
Unique in Jordanian educational circles, GJU sends all its students to Germany for a semester’s worth of elective engineering courses (taught in German). They get to learn the German culture, educational system, and even the host schools’ study habits, all while applying for internships in German industry. The students’ nearly year-long ‘sabbatical’ wraps up with a five-month stint working in German firms.
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According to GJU Professor Nathir Rawashdeh, these students return to Jordan “all grown up.” Their experiences not only open their eyes to the rest of the world, but also gives them a sense that “they can do anything or be anything.” Dr. Rawashdeh remembers in his youth that “I had great ideas of what I wanted to be, but I found relatively few opportunities. I pushed hard for the GJU to sponsor this new team as a way of empowering our students to take whatever path they desire. I want to show my students the world is getting smaller, and with hard work you can create your own opportunities.”
“It is crucial that our students form international relationships. It will broaden their own perspectives, and in some small way, I hope, contribute to world peace and prosperity.”
We’re pleased that Dr. Rawashdeh’s perspective is nearly identical to that of Missouri S&T’s Student Design and Experiential Learning Center (SDELC). See what the rest of the world has to offer. Learn from others and network with your peers. We’ll all be better for it.
Oh, by the way. The GJU folks fixed their safety light themselves, but they want to say a big “THANKS!” to host Oakland University for loaning them a new controller. It seems GJU accidentally released the “magic blue smoke” from their own circuit board.
And no connection, but the generator just shot craps again.

Miner Robotics Team Making Good Progress

.Here’s a bullet-point update on JΩTron and its creators;
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Modifications to the drive system have worked like a charm. Swapping two large drive wheels for a single caster wheel has JΩTron spinning like a ballerina
The AI system, according to Miriah, is working great but the ‘bot is still confused. Seems the GPS component is not talking to the machine’s “brain”, but SDELC shop manager Richard Dalton believes that’ll be an easy fix.
When “Joe” goes into partial shutdown, it tells you so with a hearty “JΩTron standing by!” Very unusual for IGVC.
The event’s huge generator is having an on-again, off-again relationship with the main operations tent. It’ll work for a while then quit. Could be worse; a few years ago the generator ground to a smoking, smelly stop.
The latest P.A. announcement? “If anyone has a spare safety light, could they please take it to the Jordanian team?”
The University of Waterloo was kind enough to loan us a laptop power supply, without which there wouldn’t be many blog posts.
The weather is great! Not too hot, not too humid, and just a hint of a breeze. Very comfortable.
Still plenty of time for the Miners to qualify for the big dance.

JΩTRON Has Up and Down Morning

IGVCDSC_3122.jpgAfter two full days of coding, tweaking, head-scratching and repeating the sacred IGVC mantra of “I don’t understand it! Everything worked great last night, but now NOTHING works!”, only about 25% of the teams have qualified for tomorrow’s critical obstacle course.
The Miners seem to have solved all their coding problems, so they’re practicing the engineers’ hallowed creed of “……if it ain’t broke, take it apart anyway”, so they are tweaking the code, and who knows how that will work out. But the code-talkers are not messing around just for fun. JΩTron’s drive system is having problems so the comp sci folks are taking the opportunity to double check all the AI systems.
The problem? According to head ME Chris Painter, it won’t turn in the heavy grass. What worked on the nicely-manicured campus lawn is now pulling more power than the batteries can provide. Seems the skid-steer drive system is highly inefficient, so the team members are learning something unexpected. To reduce friction they’re mounting a large rubber caster wheel to hopefully make it easier for “Joe” to turn. That means cutting and mounting steel brackets, and it might even require the Miners to remove a pair of drive wheels. The irony is that such changes will take JΩTron closer to Aluminator’s drive system of the past two years.
There’s still plenty of time to qualify for the obstacle challenge. Worst case S&T has 24 hours to earn their way into the clock-wise (and then counter-clockwise) circuits.
UPDATE: Power has just been cut to the whole facility. Rumor is the massive generator ran out of fuel. Let’s hope S&T got all their heavy metal cutting done. If the power isn’t restored soon panic may break out as laptop after laptop begins to go dark.

JΩTron Even Talks!

It’s one thing do do a great job presenting your design philosophy to the IGVC judges, which is what James Anderson, Mike Chrisco and Miriah Anderson did this afternoon. It’s quote another to have your robot do it for you.
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JΩTron threw the judges for a loop when, as soon as the timing clock started, “Joe” introduced himself, told the officials why he was there, and introduced James, Miriah, and Mike as the ‘real’ presenters. The evaluators were taken aback and had big grins on their faces, so apparently few if any teams have successfully pulled this stunt.
After that the Miners headed to the practice field to run the ‘bot around some obstacles, but it seems the morning’s trouble shooting ran the batteries down so “Joe” wouldn’t turn well. As of 5 p.m. local time it was back to the pits, hook up the battery charger and do some more tweaking.
We might get a break from the heat; seems there’s a severe thunderstorm watch in effect until late tonight. Oh. Great.

JΩtron LIVES!

IGVCDSC_2847.jpg It looks like Miriah’s crew managed to work out the bugs in the ‘bot’s drive and sensing systems. Three hours of sleep, followed by a middle-of-the-night attack on the Taco Bell drivethru, and the Miners were back on the job. They’ve moved from Mountain-Dew power to the little concentrated energy vials that promise no “post-stimulant” crash, but we’ll keep an eye in them to see if that’s true.
Late this morning they got the machine moving properly, so they switched their efforts to rehearsing for this afternoon’s design presentations, and that seems to be paying off. Mike Chrisco and James Anderson have made vast improvements in their presentation style after just two rounds of talking to a wall. At 2:30 local time, Miriah, James and Mike will do their best in front of some pretty highly-trained industry folks, who are bound to ask some pretty tough questions about the team’s claims. Design scores? Worth 20% of a team’s overall score.
Shortly after the Miners will take JΩtron out on the practice field and see of if it works as well in MIchigan as it did in Rolla. They have to qualify for the obstacle course by proving the machine knows how to go around objects, not just through them.
The weather? Hot. Muggy. Little breeze. Quite different from 2009 when students were shivering while they wrote code.
We’ve got a really great human-interest story coming up later. There’s a robot here called “Jo-Car” (no, not “Joker“) that hails from the German-Jordanian University (GJU) in Amman, Jordan. It’s the first time we’ve seen a design team from the Middle East at any student design competition, and they have some really great insights into how valuable international experiences are to their school, their nation, and most importantly, to their students on the world stage.
p.s. They’re great folks to talk to, and they say the Jordanian weather is much better than here. Cool in the shade, nice in the sun, and not muggy. Maybe they can host IGVC sometime.

It’s Robotics Time In Michigan!

S&T’s Robotics Competition Team set up camp today in Auburn Hills, Michigan, just north of Chrysler’s wold headquarters, for the annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition hosted by Oakland University.
The team’s mechanical engineers, led by Chris Painter, finished JΩmegatron’s (pronounced Joe-Megatron, get it?) motive platform some weeks ago so they don’t have a whole lot to do on day #1. Team leader Miriah Anderson had other ideas and assigned them a new task; cooking and cleaning.
While Mike Chrisco and the other EE/CompSci majors were playing “Whack-a-Mole” with intermittent coding issues, Chris, Miriah and other team members cooked up a big batch of spaghetti and hauled dinner over to the puzzled AI (artificial intelligence) experts.
It seems the robot can’t “see” one of the motor controllers, so today’s conversation went something like this:
Miriah: “Things aren’t so good”
Mike: “We don’t know what’s wrong. It always worked reliably in Rolla, so we have to go through all our code to find the error”
Chris Bessent (computer science lead): “Wait a minute! We found the problem!” “Oh, uh, crap never mind, that’s not it!”
Mike: “Well, we found and corrected some code errors that might have contributed to the problem, so it looks like a long night of staring at code. Again.”
Not to worry, this is kinda normal at the IGVC. All the Miners have to do tomorrow is make their design presentation, so they’ll have plenty of time to correct the issue and qualify for Monday’s obstacle course.

If you can’t catch the FIRST Tech Challenge in person…

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There may not be any cheeseheads at our FIRST Tech Challenge, but there will be plenty of fast-paced action. Check in via the live-stream if you can’t be here in person on Saturday, Feb. 26.

We hope a lot of our readers will be on hand for the FIRST Tech Challenge state championship here on the Missouri S&T campus this Saturday.
This is the first year S&T has hosted the statewide championship, and we’re looking for a great turnout, with hundreds of students, their coaches and parents, and spectators for the event.
But if you can’t be here in person, you can catch the event live online, thanks to the good work of our Video Communications Center staff. Just check the live stream (Windows Media Player required to view) throughout the day Saturday to get a peek at the action.
We’ll be hosting the event again this time next year, and the next, so you’ll have a chance to see the robots in action again next February.
(More information about FIRST and the FIRST Tech Challenge is available online at www.usfirst.org.)