AVC 2014: Bots, Copters, and Red Balloons of Death

Registration is open for AVC 2014! We're also announcing some new rules and changes for this year.

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AVC is back and we've made some improvements to everyone's favorite robotic challenge. If you're not familiar with AVC (or Autonomous Vehicle Competition), it's SparkFun's yearly competition where we let you put your autonomous creation through its paces. This year's competition is going to be June 21st, and will once again be held at the Boulder Reservoir. Check out the recap video from last year.

Registration is now officially open, so head on over to the AVC website and get your robot registered for 2014! Registration has been updated a bit for this year, so make sure you double-check all your information. Also, students teams are encouraged to register! There are special awards just for student teams, so let us know you're a student team and what school you're associated with when registering. Although the courses and scoring are remaining largely the same as last year, we've made a few minor tweaks to the ground and aerial portions. For a refresher, here are the full rules for 2014. Now let's talk about the changes we've made for this year.


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We're adding a new feature to the ground course this year that will make the GPS haters (and anyone competing in the Micro/PBR class) happy. We will be adding a line through the course, so you no longer have to rely solely on GPS for navigation. The line will snake through the course, avoiding obstacles, and ultimately end up at the finish line. Coming soon, we will have a course preview video that will show exactly what this line looks like. But for the time being, we can tell you that it will be a white spray chalk line (similar to what's found on football fields, etc) that will be on the course. It may have some curves, breaks, or other tricks. Generally speaking, it will get harder as the course progresses.


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The first change for the aerial competition will be class designations. This year, there will be two aerial vehicle classes, fixed wing or rotating wing. So quadcopters will be competing only against their own kind; and fixed wings will be competing only against other fixed wing crafts. Not only does this mean you are only competing directly with similar vehicles, but there will be two pools of prizes, so your chance of winning is better!

As we alluded to in our previous AVC post, we needed to make the aerial competition more challenging. When we were planning for 2013, I distinctively remember almost scratching the idea of the wicket or the aerial drop because we thought "no one's going to try that." We were dead wrong.

This year we are introducing a new obstacle, the Red Balloons of Death. We will be randomly placing 3 large (roughly 10' in diameter) red balloons somewhere in the aerial course. We're not telling you where. You are allowed to avoid them, but if you choose to destroy them you will get extra points. You get 25 points for making contact, and an additional 25 points (for each) if you manage to destroy it. Last year was the first year we held the competition over water. Ironically, it was the first year we didn't give out a water hazard award. This year, I REALLY want to give out this award. If you figure out a way to fly through balloons and still stay up in the air, bring it.

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AVC is always a lot of fun for everyone involved, and we highly encourage you to show up, even if it's just to watch. The event is free to attend, just make sure you register over at the AVC website as a spectator. At the very least, you get free entrance to the Boulder Reservoir. We once again are not capping the registration for entrants, so if you want to compete, there's no rush on getting a spot. Just register when you're ready!

Comments 87 comments

  • NightPhoenix / about 10 years ago / 5

    I just signed up! Stolen alien technology doesn't count against the $350 for the Micro/PBR class right? Any specific rules regarding radiation levels? I'm measuring 70 rem now... maybe just tell everyone to take a couple big steps back? Eh should be fine. For Science!

    • Stolen alien technology doesn’t count against the $350 for the Micro/PBR class right?

      Rob, in his capacity as Arbiter Of These Here Rules, might overrule me on this, but provisionally let's call it worth at least an extra beer on the house at the after party.

  • LED addict / about 10 years ago / 2

    Cool! Wish I lived in Colorado....

    • Erik-Sparkfun / about 10 years ago / 5

      This is a great excuse to come visit!

      • kirby g / about 10 years ago / 4

        Exactly! Im coming from wisconsin

        • Sweet another Wisconsinite! I'm going to try to make it down this summer. Even if I can't get my A.V. working properly.

        • Maccaroo / about 10 years ago / 1

          I'm in Perth. Perhaps if I can design my bot to get itself from Aus to Colorado I'll get bonus points...

    • Member #435690 / about 10 years ago / 1

      Same here..... I want to go but i live too far away(washington). sigh......

  • Member #419548 / about 10 years ago / 1

    Any chance AVR 2014 will be streamed live?

  • Member #13003 / about 10 years ago / 1

    I asked some questions and Robert answered them... I though they should be public...

    1)One can get free real time differential GPS corrections over the internet. called NTRIP ....(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Networked_Transport_of_RTCM_via_Internet_Protocol)

    Can I have a cellular modem on both ground and air vehicles that will establish an TCP/IP connection to this service? The modem will not communicate with any other devices or end points. (This is functionally equivalent to the Omnistar satellite system I used last year, but its free as opposed to $1500/yr to subscribe.)

    2)Are you going to change the hoop color or other wise make it easier to find optically?

    3)Can you provide any details on the balloons, ie exact color or model number, approximate height or any other additional info?

    4)Could one laser range the balloons and upload this info before the flight?

    5)Based on some testing it seems that a copter and a balloon are not going to be happy colliding with each other.... if I put a sharp stick on the copter may I have a manual RC control to either uncover the point or change the direction it points to a safe direction where I can arm /disarm this in flight under 100% manual control for safety reasons...

    Roberts answers... 1) I can't see a reason why not. We don't allow base stations, but the Internet isn't really a base station. I'd say that's fine.

    2) The hoop remains the same color this year. Yeah, it's tricky, but that's part of the challenge.

    3) They are 36" diameter (roughly), red balloons. Check Amazon. I'm not sure exactly which ones we ended up with, but it's just a basic red balloon. We will be releasing more information on them in a course preview video. No information will be given on their location or height. This will be a surprise to everyone.

    4) Yes. Keep this in mind though, they will be loosely tethered, and if there's wind, they will be flying all over the place. Their location will remain constant throughout the day, but if someone pops one, we will put it back in roughly the same place, but it won't be exact. I would use a rough "it's in this general area" coupled with some vision system.

    5) This is a tough question. We want to make the balloons a challenge. Plus, this gives a bit of advantage (theoretically) to the fixed wing entrants. If you have some sort of stick, you could have it 'disarmed' with a switch, but doing so would disqualify the run. So, start with it 'armed' and if you need to disarm it for safety concerns, it would be equivalent to taking over control of the vehicle, thus disqualifying the run. Does that make sense?

  • Member #537041 / about 10 years ago / 1

    Looking through the comments I see the balloons are going to be ~10ft in diameter. What are these balloons made of? I'm trying to figure out how easy they are to pop. Also, will their positions be changed between runs?

    • balloon material? I think it's latex right? The positions will remain (roughly) stable throughout the day. Of course, wind and other factors will make them move. It's impossible to keep a balloon stationary outside.

      But as far as the material, they're just normal big party balloons. We'll have more details very soon (we're purchasing them this week I think), so in the next AVC update, we'll have some details.

  • jessejay / about 10 years ago / 1

    When is the signup deadline?

  • Member #4431 / about 10 years ago / 1

    Once again I would point out you are excluding a group (I think large) who will not risk their copters or planes over water. Yes, no one went in the water last year. I would suggest that's because the real hobbyist folks wouldn't take the risk. The guys who nearly went in regained manual control because they are the elite of quad developers and flyers.
    I think there are many folks in my class and you could increase the participation and fun by making the course safer for the bots - at lease to the point we could recover pieces. But you may have as many entrants as you can handle now, and I get that. When you reduce the risk to our expensive equipment I'd love to enter. But I'm taking the change of my $3k quad going to the bottom of the reservoir.

    Any plans for a 'quad conference' like you had last year?

    • noted.

      One of the main reasons we went over the water was because it was the only place we COULD go. It's easier to keep people from being in the water than it is on the land. Since we don't want people 'on' the aerial course, we really could only do the course over water with our new venue. We will be moving to a different building in a year or so, and then we might revisit doing the course over land. But for now, we're stuck with it over water.

  • Member #525695 / about 10 years ago / 1

    I think this question has been indirectly answered, but can we get a confirmation that for the pbr class it is definitely a size limitation OR under $350 not AND under $350? Thanks!

    • Yes, it is "or". Either under $350 OR smaller than the size limitation. It doesn't need to be both.

  • Member #111142 / about 10 years ago / 1

    Will position coordinates of the balloons be available prior or on the day of the competition? Or alternatively, will fly-bys of the course be allowed before the actual runs?

    • Nope. Check the full rules. The positions will be decided the day of the race, and that's the first anyone will know about it.

  • kwan3217 / about 10 years ago / 1

    I note that the Micro/PBR class says either fits within a small bounding box OR costs less than $350. I am planning a robot which doesn't fit within the box, but new parts for it will be considerably less than the price limit, but only because I have a ton of Arduinos and other parts lying on my bench from other projects. How does that work? Should I count the cost of those other parts, even though they weren't purchased for this robot? Should I even try to get in the Micro class? I ask because I want to maximize my chance of winning, therefore I want to be in the class with the smallest number of members.

    • Whatever you plop down at the start/finish line must be less than $350 worth of parts. If google throws away one of their autonomous vehicles in the dumpster and you enter it, it's more than $350 worth of parts, and doesn't qualify. It doesn't really matter if you bought it or not. It's a relatively loose rule (since we can't really add up the retail of everything), but it's pretty easy to tell is something is under $350. If you have a $50 RC chassis, an arduino, a couple sensors, and a GPS, chances are that's less than $350. if you use a $200 chassis, an ITX motherboard, and fancy sensors, you're most likely over $350.

  • Member #13003 / about 10 years ago / 1

    Ok a rules question.... I can't put in transmitters etc...., Last year I used the omnistar HP GPS RTK service. (Broadcasts GPS corrections from a satellite)

    Looking for lighter solutions this year can I use a cell phone on the vehicle to contact an NTRIP service for GPS RTK? Can I set up my own NTRIP GPS RTK base station offsite, but in the area? Can I setup my own NTRIP GPS RTK base station on site (In the back of my car) using only the cell system (IE no added transmitters)?

    • You can't create your own base station. If the base station already exists, and you didn't build it (think of using AM/FM for triangulation or something whacky like that), you can use that. But you can't provide your own base station. Does that make sense? Everything you build for the competition must be contained in the vehicle that runs around the course. If it relies on other stuff that you build, it must be there too.

  • Member #371706 / about 10 years ago / 1

    When it comes to balloons, can you specify anything about height? Maybe a range of possible tether lengths? Nothing I'm thinking of building will feel too comfortable at the edge of space or 10cm above the water, so any little bit of information helps ;)

    Very good arial rules this year: nice balance of competing engineering specs. Looking forward to seeing ya'all in June.

  • Maxwellfire / about 10 years ago / 1

    Can we use, say a miniature air cannon to fire a spike and pop the balloons. what about a bb-gun connected to a servo.

    High power lasers anyone?


    • Check the rules, no projectiles. Lasers MIGHT work, but I think just flying into them might be easier.

  • JasonShort / about 10 years ago / 1

    I really don't think the Copter course is long enough or hard enough. How about multiple ball drops? Or land based obstacles or walls that need to be navigated? Or picking up an object such as a hoop? Or acrobatics such as flips?

    • Robert L / about 10 years ago / 1

      It'd be awesome to have an RC boat in the water, running some kind of path automatically. Put a hoola hoop on it or something to make it a bigger target. Then have the copters find it autonomously and drop the tennis ball in the target.

      Pickup something from the island.

      So many great possibilities.

  • JasonShort / about 10 years ago / 1

    I hope the rules about remote telemetry are no longer in place? That was problematic from a safety standpoint. I also have no intention of loosing a $1500 copter in the water, but that's me. Sorry.

    • Yeah, we have heard these concerns before. Last year not a single person went in the water. That means the entrants had a 100% success rate, which means that the course wasn't hard enough, or that prohibiting remote telemetry was not a big enough issue.

      Also, we do allow you to regain control of your aerial entry at ANY time, it just disqualifies that run. So, you can, at any time, attempt to save it from crashing or drowning.

      • Robert L / about 10 years ago / 1

        Last year the requirements for telemetry seemed to be relaxed mid-way through the event. Many of us were openly running telemetry. Has this changed?

      • JasonShort / about 10 years ago / 1

        Telemetry is for system awareness. Such as quality of GPS signal, sudden loss of voltage (happened to me last year), Failsafe triggering. I could go on. It has no bearing on the outcome of a race if used one way, but will save a 4 to 10 pound machine with spinning blades from crashing unnecessarily or worse, hitting someone. I think you guys have it backwards. I would not allow anyone to fly without telemetry. It is not safe.

  • rmackay9 / about 10 years ago / 1

    Will the balloons be replaced after I pop them? It'd be a shame if I pop them all on my first run and nobody else even gets a shot at them. :-)

  • Robert L / about 10 years ago / 1

    Have there been any improvements to the spectator safety for the aerial competition this year? I'd like to use my big helicopter. It sat parked last year because of the layout. If not I'll just stick with the little one again.

    The balloon thing sounds interesting... Is that the only new or changed challenge?

    • We won't be installing a plexiglass dome, so the safety is about the same as last year. In all reality, nothing is going to stop an out-of-control helicopter from doing some damage, outside of people being fully enclosed in a building. Unfortunately, we'd rather have spectators, so maybe your big helicopter can sit this one out again. Sorry. We don't know of a good way for people to still be able to watch an even with huge autonomous flying things.

      • Robert L / about 10 years ago / 1

        AMA events usually just rely on a bit of distance.

        • Yeah, but as fast as some of these fly, I'm not sure the distance would still allow you to see what's actually going on. I think we're pretty good with the compromise for now.

          • Robert L / about 10 years ago / 1

            I don't want to be argumentative, but I just want to suggest how this could be easily done.

            If the take-off and landing zone is restricted to only the front half of the gravel lot, I think the spectator separation distance requirement would already be met. This should be easily doable, at least for the copters, as demonstrated last year landing in a 5 foot area is possible.

            Then, you just need to control the flight profile a bit. Rigidly require the copters to at least fly over the wicket area, but not necessarily under it. But forcing them to fly over in that direction, before landing, sets up a flight pattern where the copter is coming in to land in a parallel path to the spectator area. This way, if it's going to overshoot the landing, then it won't crash into the spectator area.

            The straight-out-and-back flight profile currently possible should simply not be allowed. Now you've greatly increased the safety of the flight, with very few changes.

            And just so it's clear, I'm not the guy that brought the car-sized helicopter (you used the word 'huge'). That was somebody else. I'd only be looking to fly a heli about 1.2 meter long.

  • rmackay9 / about 10 years ago / 1

    Fantastic! I'll be there with my copter. I really like the balloon addition to the course!

  • "This year, I REALLY want to give out this award. If you figure out a way to fly through balloons and still stay up in the air, bring it."

    What's this line alluding to? how big are the balloons going to be?

    • depends on how big we can blow them up, but probably around 10' in diameter I think?

      It's not so much the size, as the fact people are going to need the bonus points to win, so someone's bound to try and fail.

      • Chip Geek / about 10 years ago / 1

        10' (feet) or 10" (inches)?

        • feet, hopefully. these are BIG balloons. Similar to what we used to use on the roof back when AVC was at our building.

      • Sounds good. In that case, is there a height range for the balloons? Will they be floating on the water or in the air? What's to stop us from just going straight up, take a bird's eye view of the competition, then proceed as normal with that info?

        • Honestly, I felt like it was too easy for people last year. There will be no information on the placement of the balloons at all. They will be "inside the course boundaries". From there, you have to navigate to them and destroy them.

          It's up to you to decide how you choose to accomplish this task.

  • Well, there I go thinking up new ideas again...

    Looks like I might be making two unique robots after all :3

  • Nogginboink / about 10 years ago / 1


    The registration has just opened and already I feel way behind on my code....

    • schreiaj / about 10 years ago / 1

      You? I have to still do all the cad work for the entry too :( And figure out how I'm getting what will likely end up being 40+lbs of robot to Colorado.

  • chartle / about 10 years ago * / 1

    Can you shoot down the balloons like this?


    Because now you are getting into world of drones which I understand are officially illegal. ;)

    But for real here I think you need to amend the rules for no projectile weapons, just like in battle bots. Also have you thought about flying planes with razor blades on the leading edge of their wings and other popping devices.

    • there's something in the rules about weapons I think. but yeah, no weapons. plus, the rules state you must actually contact the balloon, so you need to make physical contact to get points.

      • Applicable Robotics / about 10 years ago / 1

        Does the aircraft need to touch the balloon in order to collect points for bursting it? For example, if the balloon was popped with a laser, and the aircraft did not touch the balloon, would 25 points be collected for popping it or not?

        • Hum, as the rules stand, you get points for doing both. If you used a laser, you would just get the second set of bonus points, not the first.

          • Applicable Robotics / about 10 years ago / 1

            Wonderful, thanks. Also, I plan on using a wifi link in place of a regular RC Tx/Rx system for my fixed wing entry. Is this acceptable? Range is not a factor, and it would only transmit a video telemetry feed and control packets: all flight controll processing would be onboard the aircraft.

            Have you decided on a specific balloon? If so, could you give us the link? Knowing the specifications of the balloons would be quite helpful.

            • You should re-check the rules, transmitting is not allowed. The vehicle must be autonomous and self-contained (GPS is the only exception to this rule).

              Specifications on the balloons will be provided in a bit. Keep posted.

      • chartle / about 10 years ago * / 1

        couldn't find anything and I also added some other things to my post that you may want to address unless you want this to be like a Saw movie. :)

        Note I have never seen a Saw movie but i think the point is still valid.

        • good call, updated. The idea of pins or blades on the wings is what we had in mind. rules are updated to prohibit weapons.

          • MikeGrusin / about 10 years ago / 8

            For the record, I lobbied to have the balloons filled with hydrogen.

            • "Risk Neutral"

            • sgrace / about 10 years ago / 1

              A blow torch would've been cool to put on a quadcopter...

              • If you can fit one on there and still get it to fly, more power to you...

                • chartle / about 10 years ago / 1

                  This reply and this one seem to contradict each other.

                  This has always been the case. All entrants get a review before they can enter the competition.

                  • I didn't say he could enter, but I'd like to see him try to get one to fly :-)

                    • chartle / about 10 years ago / 1

                      Whats your wild fire situation at that time of year?

                      There are a lot of small butane "blow" torches out there.

          • chartle / about 10 years ago / 1

            Still think you need to think through this a little bit more. I know quads can cause damage if they hit someone but how bad would it be if there were razor blades on the tips of the rotors? Maybe all weapons must be fixed ie no spinning blades with a big disclaimer that the decision of the judges is final.

            • wpmcnamara / about 10 years ago / 2

              No need for razor blades. Just use APC electric props. They are pretty near razor sharp at the tips to begin with. Given what one will due to a finger, I doubt a balloon would stand a chance.

            • This has always been the case. All entrants get a review before they can enter the competition.

  • Sweet! Data Bus is registered!

    Chalk line? Interesting development!

    • Yeah, we want to give people more options than just GPS. Plus. GPS modules are pricey and makes it hard to get into the Micro/PBR class.

  • I have to ask, since I haven't really gotten any kind of answer yet.

    I'm going to make a tiny hovercraft. It fits in both the Micro/PBR and Non-traditional Locomotion classes. Am I allowed to enter it in twice?

    • great question! you can't enter twice, but I'd pick the category with the least amount of competition, which would be non-traditional locomotion. however, you can certainly build two of them, and compete in both classes. but each individual vehicle can only compete in one class.

      • A thought.

        Couldn't I just pay the vehicle registration fee twice instead of building two vehicles that will be exactly the same? I'm planning on having a smartphone on the robot, and if I can save some money, I would totally be up for it :)

        • sorry, no. this would effectively double your chances of winning. since the entry fee is pretty minimal, we'd rather you either 1) pick the right class and just compete in it, or 2) build two separate entries.

          • Alright, makes sense. Two smartphones it is!

            • If you can share the smartphone between the two, that's OK with me. As long as you have two separate chassis or something.

              • Woo! That's great news!

                I guess since I have you here, I have one last question. At the moment, my smartphone-to-microcontroller connection consists of a Bluetooth link. I'm pretty sure this wouldn't fly due to the no-wireless-connectivity rules, but I'd rather double check before going head-first in compiling my own Android kernel for USB support...

                • Let me know if you get that USB android link working, I have the same goal but I have no idea what direction to go in. Also is this possible on android 2.1? and could you avoid a custom kernel and still get USB data tx?

                  • Skyler, I did manage to get the USB/MCU link working (a proof of concept). This involved me updating my HTC One S (dev phone of choice) to KitKat (running Paranoid Android Beta). Fortunately, I didn't have to do anything outside of that.

                    I also needed a USB Host to USB device cable. I use this one: https://hakshop.myshopify.com/products/micro-to-micro-otg

                    A custom kernel would be needed because you need the correct hooks for the USB Host driver (from my understanding).

                • correct, we'd rather you not use bluetooth. you 'could', but honestly, it might not be reliable enough. I'd work on getting USB to work.

                  • Well, fortunately after trying out a beta KitKat rom, it started working, so there's that :)

      • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKUOB8MN4Kc

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