AVC 2016 is coming

Trust your code? Prove it.

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I’m excited. This year's AVC is going to be epic. When we started AVC eight years ago, it was as an homage to the DARPA Grand Challenge that had started a few years earlier.

Carnegie Red Team DARPA Vehicle from 2004

Carnegie Red Team from 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge

It all started as a bet: Could we build vehicles using the tech that SparkFun was producing to autonomously drive ourselves to the store to pick up lunch? And do it cheaper, and with far fewer complications, than the ferociously complex vehicles failing to get off the line at DARPA Grand Challenge?

Elmo crossing finish line

We were able to, sort of, and boy was it a humbling experience. My Elmo entry in 2010 made it around the building but it was a staggering amount of work. Since then, AVC has taken off like a brush fire. DIYDrones was founded, taco-delivering quadcopters became a thing, and advancements in ground vehicles pushed us to make a more compelling challenge. Since 2008, the field of competitors have solved every racecourse we threw at them.

AVC Images

In parallel, we've seen autonomous, life-sized cars advance quite significantly. I still can't buy a car to take me to the grocery store, but it's coming very rapidly. And therein lies the rub: Autonomous cars are looking more and more like your everyday Honda, while the AVC entrants still look like R/C cars. Enter the Power Racing Series.

AVC Racer

From Jalopnik

The Power Racing Series has been hacking and racing children’s Power Wheels vehicles since 2008. Coincidence? I think not.

PRS racer passing another racer

Screenshot from PRS’s great videos

These are our type of folks: a strong sense of building, hacking, and camaraderie, alongside a mild disregard for safety. Just read some of their rules:

Rule 5: If the panel of officials determine the car to infringe on certain rules or bend said rules to a position that is beyond “the spirit of the series,” then a completely arbitrary, painful, and time consuming penalty will be administered. Repeat: If you show up to our track and half the field thinks you are “too serious” then you are doing it wrong.

Rule 7.2.2: We’re here to have fun. Rules will get bent, cars will break, so just relax and enjoy yourself. If you’re reading line by line and looking for a 1/10th of a second lap time improvement, you’re going to have a bad time. Aside from safety, not much else really matters. You don’t race to win – you race ‘til you break. Don’t get too wrapped up in or obsessed with podiums or lap time records. Share tools. Be friends with rival teams. Have rivalries just because it’s hilarious. Make friends. And most importantly, be excellent to one another.

After watching a PRS race at the New York Maker Faire, I knew we had to do something together. The PRS has been putting on amazing events for the past eight years; they know what it takes to put on a spectacularly fun event. So Patrick, Jim, Eli and I started working out what a SparkFun + PRS event might look like. We’re proud to announce AVC 2016 will be co-produced with the Power Racing Series.

The 2016 PRS AVC will have four options:

  • Power Wheels Racing: You want to hack a Power Wheels and race it? Go for it. Straight up human skill and reaction speed FTW.
  • Classic AVC: You want to reuse an autonomous car from a previous AVC? Go for it. There will be a 25-pound limit.
  • Autonomous Power Wheels Racing: We’re calling this A+PRS. The main difference between Classic AVC and A+PRS is that you must carry a passenger. Yep! Time to get some skin in the game.
  • BattleBots: This was immensely popular last year. If you’ve got a one-pound or three-pound combat robot, bring it.

New for 2016: Left turns! The square AVC course has been solved. 2016 will incorporate curves and many more exciting twists. More details about the 2016 PRS AVC are here, and the full rule set for A+PRS is here. Pick your own adventure; I’m personally excited to build an autonomous Power Wheels. I dream of walking up to a tiny car, strapping on a helmet, hitting the go button and holding on for dear life.

So ask yourself: Do you trust your code? Please have a seat and prove it.

Comments 17 comments

  • einro / about 8 years ago / 3

    On the subject of covers for bales of hay ... do it like the big boys. Instead of adverts by Ford, Bridgestone or Valvoline,we could have tarps/bags with names like Atmel, TI or Microsoft. Sponsors would add prises, add color, and maybe the picture of a tunnel to keep Wylee Coyote on his toes when racing with the Road Runner.

  • FSJ Guy / about 8 years ago / 1

    YAY for lower fences!!!!! Thanks for recognizing that we are smart enough to run away if we need to! LOL! :- )

    A live video feed and big screen TVs for the battle bots would be awesome, too. (Yes, I understand that those things are expensive!)

  • TECH GEEK / about 8 years ago / 1

    I want to see an off-road track/dirt track, and a water coarse (for boats/hovercraft)!

    Can this please be a thing?

    • Not this year but awesome thinking. It will be on the docket for changes in 2017.

      • Ted M / about 8 years ago / 1

        Please do put an off-road track (or portion of the track) on the suggestion list! Very cool idea!

      • TECH GEEK / about 8 years ago / 1

        Is there a chance we could have a 360 degree stream? That way anyone can look at what they want without needing to have everyone looking at the same thing at that time?

  • engrstephens / about 8 years ago / 1

    Is it just me or is Sparkfun leaning a bit towards "don't put any new development into AVC" Classic AVC: You want to -->reuse<-- an autonomous car from a previous AVC? Go for it. There will be a 25-pound limit.

    I've never entered before but I've been tinkering with an entry for a long time. I'd like to stay classic because transporting a power wheels doesn't work with my current vehicle situation. However, if classic is going to get dropped in future years I guess I should just commit.....

    • You should enter! It's a huge but wonderful challenge.

      We want to change and push AVC every year and reverse compatibility between years will be an ongoing challenge. We also want to avoid making it logistically or financially challenging. A tricky balance for us but that that doesn't answer your question. In future years I foresee the human carrier challenge increasing and the smaller R/C sized challenge getting less attention.

      • Otzen42 / about 8 years ago / 1

        As long as the smaller bots don't disappear entirely. I think they provide a nice option for first-time teams. The barrier of entry (particularly cost) can be a lot lower with a simple RC chassis, Red Bot chassis, or even just a board with 4 hobby motors screwed to it.

        Don't get me wrong, I think the A+PRS is an awesome option for teams that have the time/money/experience to take it on.

        I look forward to this years AVC!

        PS>> Sounds like aerial is quietly going by the wayside?

        • Ya aerial had to go away in 2015. We love aerial but the love of an engaged crowd of all types and ages is more important. Add in the fact that our parking lot is 100 yards away from a four lane highway means we can't fly autonomous aircraft at the AVC.

          I believe there are much bigger entities (read TV show producers) figuring out how to get more events around aerial.

  • kirby g / about 8 years ago / 1

    Its great that the battlebots are back and wont be hidden off behind the building. But im sad that the avc course is way smaller. Although that will introduce more challenges for those with gps since the margin of accuracy is harder to deal with in a tight space

    • Yep. In 2015 we didn't realize having the battle bots arena behind the building would split the crowd so we're bringing it into the main area for 2016.

      We're reducing the height of the barriers from 6' to 2' to increase spectator participation, while maintaining safety (Course 1 will have water filled barriers, Course 2 probably hay bales).

      The square course of yesteryear has really been solved. I'm excited to see how the teams tackle the challenge of the curvy course.

      • Ted M / about 8 years ago / 2

        I love that the course is no longer square (it was getting kinda old and tired)! And lowering the fences is also great. But, could you get away from the hay bales please? They are really hard for sensors to see (IR rangers and sonar in particular). Plastic barriers would be a lot nicer on the bots.

        I really like the idea of autonomous Power Racers, but the much larger size and associated costs will make it a lot harder for newcomers to get into, so please keep the classic AVC around for a while! Looking like it will be awesome this year!

        • engrstephens / about 8 years ago / 2

          Maybe hay bails in colored trash bags. Color would be so so awesome... like orange or green.

          • kirby g / about 8 years ago / 1

            Covering the haybales seems like a great solution. or maybe even colored plastic corrugated sheets attached to the bail sides. That would solve the bags ripping and blowing away issue.

        • I'd like to add a layer the cost argument however: We brought PRS in because there are quite a few people who feel as though they can hack a power wheels. They see it as cheaper and more approachable than having to deal with all those 'expensive electronic bits'. I think both sides are right to a certain degree. I'm just excited to get them onto teams :)

          Barriers: We've got the rules up which was our primary goal. Now we have time to experiment to see what would make a good barrier solution. A plastic cover is a decent idea (I worry about cost and re-usability over the years). If anyone else has an idea please throw it out there.

      • kirby g / about 8 years ago / 1

        Thanks a ton for making the fence lower! It was hard to take pictures and see through it. Id consider this the best change made!

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