Aluminator Finally Qualifies, Then Struggles On Course

The Miners’ soon-to-be-retired mechanical platform finally qualified for the IGVC autonomous course late yesterday afternoon. Hours of troubleshooting finally got Aluminator to the playing field, some six hours after things started. One warm-up run had the machine avoiding lines and obstacles; the second attempt fell victim to a tired battery.
Permit me to step out of character here and provide you with excerpts of team leader James Anderson’s email to his teammates. First, his personal comments to his friends, and in the extended text, his play-by-play of the competition. I think these comments count for more than if they’d won the event. Please give a read to what being on a design team is all about……….
I’m proud of everything our team has accomplished this year and I think we have built a solid platform and next year we will have the ability to blow everyone away. We really pulled things together at the competition and I am proud of our performance.
I hope someone finds some value in what we did. If you want more, Frank Fitzpatrick did a great job off putting photos and stories on our website blog.
“Our team really stepped it up at competition and I think that if we were not forced to use all our time on the GPS qualification, we would have been able to make a good showing in the guidance challenge. Every one did a great job at competition and we were able to fix almost every problem we encountered. Next year should be amazing with Aluminator 2.0 nearing completion and a year to develop on our already impressive AI.”
“Thanks to everyone for working so hard at competition and throughout the year. I have enjoyed my Presidency and I am looking forward to my role as Treasurer next year. Good luck, Miriah! (I’m freeeeee (ish)).”

James’ competition diary goes on……….
The first day was spent tweaking the camera calibration and by the end we had Aluminator doing a very promising run inside the tent. The next day we had our design presentation which went very well and sparked some good questions from the judges. Most of the day was spent on implementing the new wireless e-stop system and some work on the color calibration. DSC_5101_2Alum.jpgWe were also treated to an amazing meal and great stories by Detroit-area Missouri S&T alumni. The next morning we received news that we would be giving our design presentation a second time to a larger set of judges. The initial design presentations were split into two groups, each of which was graded by a panel of three judges who evaluated the design presentation and report, and included an inspection of Aluminator. The top three teams from each design group were chosen and gave a presentation with a modified rubric to all six judges with a robot inspection at the end. We gave a great presentation and were able to secure sixth place. This is a major accomplishment for the team earning us a framed certificate and $250$ in prize money (our first-ever IGVC award). If we can get 6th with a four year old robot that we had to push into the presentation I have high hopes for next year.
After this we brought the robot out for one more color training and then went to qualify. The robot was able to successfully navigate around the white lines and cones but we had not prepared for the GPS navigation since we were having problems with our IMU and decided to focus on the guidance challenge that dose not require our GPS. However we learned that in order to qualify for navigation we would have to qualify for this as well (This was added to the rules this year and we missed it (They hid it in bright red)). We worked late into the night and by midnight had working heading and GPS data from our IMU. Unfortinatly the next moning this stopped working completely and no one could explain it. We worked until 3 trying to get the correct data and at 3:30 we where finally able to qualify. This left us enough time for our robots to do two runs on the guidance challenge. The first run we had to run the robot to the line and due to flaky cloud cover with the worst timing the robot was not able to detect the white lines in the darkness and made it 15 feet before running off the course. Our second run was similar in lighting conditions however we had run the battery completely down and Aluminator wasn’t even able to make it across the starting line.