Autonomous Vehicle Competition 2015: Rules and Regulations!

The time swiftly approaches - let's talk about AVC 2015!

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AVC 2015 is June 20th, 2015 at our HQ in Niwot, CO!

The Autonomous Vehicle Competition, or AVC as it is lovingly referred to, has, over the years, become SparkFun's signature event. The first AVC took place way back in 2009 at our old building, with a few teams of autonomous bots racing around our parking lot.

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A view from a rainy 2010 AVC

Over time, the event has changed in a number of ways - new rules, new venues, the addition of hackathons and other events and more. This year is no exception and there are a few notable changes.

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Even though we like to put safety third, sometimes it's not the smartest thing.

First off, the most important change. There is no aerial category for this year's competition. We know, this is a disappointment to many people, but hear us out. Last year, we had a few too-close-for-comfort calls involving aerial bots and the crowd. We literally have nightmares about someone getting hurt by a quadcopter. One incident in particular (that left a large dent in a chainlink fence), gave us serious hesitation about the safety we could provide our guests.

Furthermore, with the booming popularity of quads and other drones, there are more and more regulations in place. This year's location (our new building - more on that below!) is quite close to Highway 119 and we are not legally allowed to have aerial vehicles -- particularly unmanned ones -- zipping around. Also, frankly, there just isn't the space for it -- we want AVC to be the best it can be, and that wouldn't be possible in the space we have available.

With that out of the way, we do have a number of exciting changes that will hopefully pique your interest!

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This year's course.

The ground category rules will largely be the same as in the past. You can see the full rundown of rules over on our AVC site. Of note is that we are adding an incentive to folks that do not use GPS in their bots. There will also be a special shortcut to be revealed at a later date.

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Hanging out on our rooftop. It was Halloween - Nate doesn't always dress like that.

Also, as I said above, this year's AVC will be at our new building! We are pretty proud of our new digs and are excited to show it off. If you haven't seen the new place, this will be your chance!

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Casey, SparkFun Engineer and Master of Destruction, is spearheading the combat robot competition. Be afraid.

And finally -- and maybe the addition we are most excited about -- is that there will be a 1 lb Combat Robot competition! If you haven't ever seen combat robots in action, it is pretty darn exciting. We are expecting a great turnout and hope to see some awesome destruction.

In addition to the robotics portions of the event, we are planning another hackathon (details to be announced at a later date), as well as project demos, booths from folks in the maker community, food trucks and more!

Register as a Competitor

AVC is always a great time and we are very excited about this year's event. If you want to learn more about the rules of the day and enter as a competitor, head over to our AVC Site.

If you're interested in attending as a spectator, tickets are available here for $6 bucks, or you can grab them using the form above. We think it's a pretty decent price for a full-day of robotics mayhem!

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As always, if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below and we'll do our best to answer them. Thank you for your understanding about the aerial portion of our competition and we hope we'll see you at AVC 2015!

Comments 46 comments

  • No aerial competition is, of course, a bit of a drag, but completely understandable. (The year I finally have both time and resources to attempt an entry, it was, of course, planned as an aerial entry.) But I am excited about the non-GPS angle and the pending shortcut, And of course, who wouldn't be excited about robot battles! As always, see you there!

  • kirby g / about 9 years ago / 4

    Right Hand turns?! Better go take the nascar stickers off my bot.

  • Member #419848 / about 9 years ago / 4


    • About what aspect specifically? The competition is a lot of work and if there's something we can fix to make it better, we want to know. Unfortunately, federal and state regulations aren't within our power to change though :-/

    • Unfortunately it just is what it is (as they say). There is just no reasonable way to ensure the safety of the spectators. That, coupled with the fact that we legitimately cannot legally fly the drones in your location, it had to happen.

      • NorthStreetLabs / about 9 years ago / 1

        There is just no reasonable way to ensure the safety of the spectators.

        Sure there is, look at hockey or nascar, just put all spectators in a giant domed chain-link fence, and call it say... THUNDERDOME! But in all seriousness, maybe a seperate event for the aerial guys in another location on another day?

        +1 for the non-gps idea!

        • I have been investigating ideas in having a drone competition that is heavily webcasted and keep the event open to competitors only. There are of course advantages and disadvantages to that.

          • Member #330069 / about 9 years ago / 1

            I would love that, as in january I got my school to drop ~10K on quadrocopter stuff for me and my team so we can compete kinda bummed :( will still be awesome, possibly having the spectators 500ft back? and no-go zone over the "spectator area", But i love what you guys do!

  • KirAsh4 / about 9 years ago / 3

    Spectator safety is and should always be Number #1 priority. Unfortunately that means something had to give. Not having an aerial category this year is certainly a drag, but totally understandable. Things have gotten better over the years. I still remember the throngs of kids chasing after the quads at the early competitions around the Longbow building. All I could do was cringe. Hopefully something can be put in place for next year's event and hopefully the FAA won't intervene. :)

  • Member #341578 / about 9 years ago / 2

    Thanks for taking out the aerial category, it's so cool, but someone was eventually going to get hurt. I wonder what constraints could be added to make the competition safe? Using rotors for upward lift seems too dangerous, but what if the lift was provided by a balloon and steering was provided with a small rotor.

    Alternatively, it could be an indoor competition with something like micro airplanes (think Stevens Aero. You would probably still get hurt if hit by one of these, but hopefully not seriously since they are so small and low power.

    Honestly, adding large safety constraints to the aero competition might be the best thing for the unmanned aerial industry since the hobbyists who compete in Sparkfun events are very creative and will likely produce novel safety designs... Perhaps one of the challenges could be running into a large Jello mold and rating the amount of damage done - less damage = more points, lol.

    • we were toying with the idea of an enclosed course, but that limits the competition to quads and such. fixed wing would be out. but getting an arena big enough for an interesting competition was ultimately the issue. The course would rely heavily on vision tracking, and we'd need to give a LOT more notice for something like that. We'll have something next year I assume, but we just need to plan it out a bit more.

      • darrylh / about 9 years ago / 1

        I tend to believe that vision processing is a bit cost-prohibitive for keeping stuff in the air. It would be great to see some assisted positioning technologies made available as part of AVC. I'm thinking of the kind of things that traditional pilots have been using to keep their planes in the air since the beginning of time, like some micro-version of VOR. Or a bunch of NRF51822 beacons. Or some external camera tracking which would relay the X/Y/(Z) position via radio link.

        Looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with :)

      • Member #450404 / about 9 years ago / 1

        I was really looking forward to the aerial competition, but i do understand the safety issue. It seems like a really fun challenge to incorporate vision systems, but as you said, systems like that will take a long time to complete. I know that i will try, and if you decide to re-introduce the aerial category next year with these changes, then I will do my best to get my quad ready. I assume that you allow international entries? :)

        • yes! we always allow international entries. stay tuned, we really hope to do aerial at another time. just not for 2015 AVC.

      • Member #341578 / about 9 years ago / 1

        Yeah, Building an enclosure can be cost/time prohibitive. I used to study bat populations and we used "mist nets" (Nixalite , Ecotone) to capture bats. The nets were kind of painful to set up and take down (fold them carefully!), but they were quite effective and a group of people could easily set them up. With some strong poles for support I imagine most aerial vehicles would get tangled up pretty quick in those nets, getting them out is the problem... You could always have extra nets ready to go when a vehicle gets tangled up.

        • Miskatonic / about 9 years ago / 2

          The concern is our proximity to a highway. We looked at the netting solution.

  • Member #657036 / about 9 years ago / 1

    So if I create a robot under $350, I can enter it in the Micro/PBR class? How do I show that its less than $350?

  • Member #634384 / about 9 years ago / 1

    Trip from KSU South Campus to Niwot, CO ~20 h 41 min, each way 1,412 miles, ~19 h 19 min without traffic Estimated gas expenses: $332.60 Assuming 25 mpg, round trip, plus 200 additional miles, and $2.75 per gallon Split four ways = $83.16 per person

    Does anyone come to this event from "far away?"

  • VonChurdhousen / about 9 years ago / 1

    Bummer, but understandable until you have built your giant glass dome... hey what about miniaturizing the whole thing??? Rules for quads not larger than 5 inches across and have the whole course inside a bullet proof lexan half dome about 10 feet high... that's no problem right?

  • Nogginboink / about 9 years ago / 1

    What's the best way to request rules clarifications?

    I'm thinking of putting a GPS on my bot for an initial fix on the starting line, then unplugging/physically removing the GPS before the start of the run. Does that qualify for the no-GPS bonus?

  • Member #652311 / about 9 years ago / 1

    Perfect example of how the stifling FAA regulations do more harm than good. Thanks, US Government!

  • Daniel Sims / about 9 years ago / 1

    What will the "walls" of the course be? Chain link fence?

    • The outer walls will be chain link fence, as before. The inner part of the course are the stanchions that we've used previously (good for object detection).

      • gperco / about 9 years ago / 1

        Any chance of having something easier for barrier detection on either wall? Even just covering the bottom foot of the fence in paper or something else solid? The last 2 years, it seems like a lot of robots had problems detecting boundaries because they were either sparse (inside wall) or difficult to 'see' with sonar/IR/etc (outer wall). Doesn't seem like a problem if you just use GPS, but if you're adding an incentive to forgo that kind of absolute positioning, adding either a solid wall or more substantial landmarks to help with relative positioning would be nice!

        • We've been urged to make it a bit more challenging. So for this year, it stays. We want you to get creative. Autonomous vehicles have a lot of design challenges and you don't always have the ability to alter the course or terrain to work with the vehicle, you have to work within the constraints of the course.

      • Nogginboink / about 9 years ago / 1

        I don't see the locations of the stanchions on the course preview; will they be added?

        • Same as previous years. Spaced out on the inside of the course. Yellow at the corners, red in the middle. I think they were every 10 feet.

  • andygrove / about 9 years ago / 1

    To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs ... you know you have chosen to keep a safe distance from the Sparkfun aerial competition". I really enjoyed last year's event but was somewhat concerned about the safety of my family. It was a tough call but the right one, in my opinion.

  • Member #13003 / about 9 years ago / 1

    Are you going to have hay bales or anything similar lining the course this year?
    If so will the corner posts be out away from the bales so our bots can "See" them? Your parking lot has white lines and "curb islands" will these be unobstructed? IE nothing painted on the parking lot and nothing in front of the "curb islands"? Just checking, No bonus other than time for going through the short cut... correct?

  • Ted M / about 9 years ago / 1

    Do team members need to register as spectators, or is that included?

  • SRLM / about 9 years ago / 1

    It would be great to have a water category. I'm working on making an autonomous 1m sailboat and would love to race it.

  • DreadPirateClark / about 9 years ago / 1

    So in the combat class, if the fuel has to be butane does that mean I can choose my own oxidizer?

  • Member #650133 / about 9 years ago / 1

    For the ground competition, the non-GPS bonus shows as 150 points in the table ... but the 4th example only gives the team 100 points--can you confirm the true non-GPS bonus?

    Also want to confirm that the barrels are merely to obstruct easy passage through that part of the course and not a slalom-like obstacle and must be passed in a particular sequence.

    Thanks ... and looking forward to participating this year!

    • oops, typo. It's actually 150. we upped it at the last minute.

      the barrels are just like previous years, they're just obstacles, but they don't need to be 'completed' in any particular way.

  • dksmall / about 9 years ago / 1

    Any chance of raising the combat robot class to 13lbs? That was a fairly standard weight class back in the BattleBot/BotBash days.

    • Do you mean 12lb? (Never saw a 13lb class) Unfortunately the arena I have is not equipped to handle that level of destruction. We are going to try 1lb antweights and slowly work our way up.

      • dksmall / about 9 years ago / 1

        We had a 13lb at the BotBash events, thought it was the same at BattleBots, but that was a long time ago. :-(

  • sgrace / about 9 years ago / 1

    Is there a reason why it couldn't be done at the Boulder Reservoir again? It was a good location, big enough for everything.

    • There were some logistical issues. Cops were called on us, park rangers decided to show up, etc. Also, our WiFi wasn't great and we had some issues with registration and such. Lastly, we didn't have access to the course for setup, planning, etc. It was a pain to setup the entire course just to film the video, only to take it down again and coordinate with them (and shoot around cars in the parking lot, etc). Having it on our own home turf is just SO much easier.

      • Member #394180 / about 9 years ago / 2

        Why are you charging for admission if this is on your home turf? {And why the 26% surcharge?) Isn't this basically an advertising event?

        • Jess M / about 9 years ago / 1

          As AVC has continued to grow, we need to make sure it's sustainable. That means some things will be changing--such as including the battle bots, venue changes, and, yes, admission charges. Even if it's at our building, it's not free to put on the event, and we want to make sure we continue to offer the most awesome autonomous vehicle competition this side of DARPA.

        • I can't speak to this decision to charge for admission, but the surcharge is from Eventbrite. It's $0.99 per transaction, plus 2.5%, plus a 3% transaction fee apparently.

      • sgrace / about 9 years ago / 1

        Thanks Robert! Yeah, that sounds like a lot of pain to deal with, especially if they aren't overly helpful.

    • Doing it at the Reservoir was on the table, but we still wouldn't have done the aerial category for safety reasons, so it make sense to have it at our HQ.

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