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AVC 2016 course preview

A look at what classic AVC competitors will be facing on September 17

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This year, SparkFun's Autonomous Vehicle Competition (AVC) will incorporate a few new twists. Along with our classic autonomous race course and Combat Bots, this year will feature the Power Racing Series (PRS) and a new autonomous PRS category. I'm here today to talk about the classic AVC race track.

To accommodate all of the attractions, we've split up our parking lot into smaller sections. So while the classic AVC course will be smaller than in previous years, it will almost certainly be more challenging. Allow me to illustrate...

The track will be 10 feet wide, with hay bales along the sides. These are just hay; they're not covered with anything. To start the race, each entrant gets 300 points, and one point will be deducted for every second that you're navigating the course. Those deductions stop as soon as your vehicle crosses the finish line, and you can earn more points by tackling some of the obstacles along the way.

From the starting line, your vehicle will navigate a very nice and easy, 120-foot straightaway to the first right turn, followed by another 35-foot straightaway to the second right turn. Following that turn, you'll encounter a 58-foot section with four red barrel obstacles. You can dodge them or hit them (they may or may not be easily movable), it's up to you, but you don't get any extra points for navigating the barrels.

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But that's a long way around there, isn't it? That's gonna eat some time. So maybe you want to take the optional dirt section, huh? About 30 feet from the start line, there's a right turn onto a 7-foot-wide section of track that's going to be covered with dirt, maybe some rocks, skulls, etc. Definitely off-road in nature. Taking this section will shave off some time if your 'bot can hang, as it will lead you to the end of the barrel section, avoiding them entirely. It will also land you 50 extra points.

Regardless of which of those two paths you choose, your 'bot now sits at a four-way intersection. From the barrel-straight, the easy path is to your left (or straight from the dirt section) to another 58-foot straightaway. There will be a green hoop placed in this section, and going through the hoop will net you another 10 points. At the end of that section is a right turn onto a 67-foot straightaway with no other obstacles, followed by another right turn and another 58-foot straightaway. On this section, there will be a ramp (more of a jump) that will net you 10 points if you get over it.

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But again, that's a long way around and it's going to eat your time. So if you want to save some time, instead of taking the left turn from the barrel-straight, you can go straight (or a right turn from the dirt section). This will lead down a straight that ends with the Discombobulator.

If you don't remember this from last year, it's a giant gas-powered turntable that's specifically designed to lay waste to your navigation algorithms. Taking this path will relieve you from taking the three other sections, but it can send your 'bot flying. And if you choose to jump the Discombobulator, beware: If you jump too far, you can end up in the “Ball Pit of Despair.” This is essentially a low-edge kiddie pool filled with those big plastic balls you see at fast food chain play areas – the ones that always smell sorta funny (hey, we were going to use acetone to begin with). Landing in the Ball Pit of Despair will end your run. If you make it past the Discombobulator, you'll get 50 more points. But just to show you that we're nice guys, we'll give you 10 points just for getting up the Discombobulator ramp. Who loves ya? We do.

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Assuming you successfully navigate the Discombobulator, hang a right turn (or just straight from the easy path) into the last “hard” section of track. You'll first take a right turn, then a hairpin to the left, followed by another hairpin to the right. That leads you to the final, 25-foot path to the finish. Yay! You did it!

I also need to mention that there are three weight classes this year: lightweight (<10lbs), welterweight (10-25lbs) and heavyweight (>25lbs). The high-end weight restriction is 40lbs, so don't come with anything heavier than that. Students and veterans will run in the same heats, and registration closes August 1. Teams will be required to submit verification of progress on August 15th and September 1st, so plan for that.

So that's it! It all sounds so easy, doesn't it? We'll see about that, and we'll see you on September 17th!


Comments 13 comments

  • Are you not going to offer the No GPS bonus this year?

    • You know, we haven't talked about that one yet. But I'll be fairly impressed if you can dead-reckon this course. I'll talk to the crew and see if we can get that reinstated.

  • Just to clarify, the entire course, on both sides, will be lined with the hay bales? There will be no more chain-link fence? Will there be open boundaries that are only marked off with ribbon like in the second pic?

  • One of my robots can use MaxSonar devices to navigate. The now deleted chain link fences give a great signal but hay bales do not. Other than the barrels, are there going to be any stanchions or the like to navigate by? Also, it would be nice to have a more complete specification on the ramp: its width, height and placement. It could easily be avoided or negotiated on the old course but with the narrower path on the new course presents a particular problem for either strategy. Placing it off-center might help.

    • I just ran a 30-degree angle test with the MaxSonar EZ4 and WR sensors and was getting resolution off of our test hay bales. Your mileage may vary. We aren't planning on adding any additional navigational aides at this time.

      The ramp (not the one on the Discombobulator) is about 48" wide and 64" long with an elevation change of 6". You may dodge this ramp if you'd prefer. The location will be at the end of the long straightaway on the "easy" course, but the actual placement will be subject to change at any point before the race. (I don't think we'll be moving it between heats, but I make NO guarantee of that.)

      The Discombobulator has a 72" wide by 48" long on-ramp with about a 6.5" elevation change. The off-ramp is similar, but slightly lower (~5.5" elevation change) The wheel will likely turn at the same monstrous speed as last year, but there will be a tweak to the design that may discourage jumping. Some elements of design are still ongoing. The Discombobulator will not be avoidable if you choose the "hard" path at the second junction.

  • Are radio trilateration systems allowed for navigation in the competition. I thought I read something in the past that they weren't allowed but I didn't see anything in this years rules. I built some Tags and Anchors based on the DWM1000 Time Of Flight ranging module to keep track of the cats in the house and if I can set up 3 anchor nodes around the course it would be interesting to see how well it works.

  • Nevermind...

  • Any more details on the off-road portion? It is just loose dirt on the ground, or is there something more challenging to it? What sort of ground clearance will be required?

    • Good question. We're making it up as we go, a bit, but I think if you're running something akin to a 10th-scale RC truck chassis you should do just fine.

  • OFF TOPIC I've been meaning to mention it here, but haven't had the time. A few days ago, I saw a news report on TV that the Feds now have dogs trained to sniff out electronics. Although they claim it's being used for sniffing out child porn (Google electronic sniffing dog), it seems to me that Big Brother could use these puppies (pardon the pun) to go after (and punish [OK, I couldn't resist such an obvious additional pun at this point]) other non-main-stream uses of electronics, were they so inclined. Despite the puns, it seems to me to be pretty scary.

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