Autonomous Vehicle Competition - April 23rd, 2011

Register for SparkFun Autonomous Vehicle Competition 2011 Spectator Ticket in Boulder, CO  on Eventbrite

AVC is back yet again for another year of epic autonomous vehicle competition! This year we have a few changes, so read the full rules (and this entire description) to see how this year will be ~~different~~ awesomer! If you're on the fence about it, check out the recap from last year. It's going to be bigger, better, and SparkFun-ier!

As always spectators are welcome (and highly encouraged) to come check out the fun! It's a great spring day full of hackery, tours, and if we're lucky a robot or two in the lake.

Basically, all you have to do is make a robot or vehicle that circumnavigates the SparkFun building. We have two categories - ground and air. Each category has a different set of rules. Here's how it will work this year.

This year, we are allowing unlimited ground vehicles to enter, there will be no limit like previous years. And while the race is still against a clock, each run will be up to 5 ground competitors starting simultaneously, depending on the total number of entrants. Weapons are not allowed, nor is intentional interference with other competitors, but we do anticipate some amount of incidental contact. Any vehicle judged to be intentionally interfering with other competitors will be disqualified. Air-going entrants will be limited to 15 due to time restrictions and the inherent difficulties in concurrent runs thereof. Race times will begin at 9:30am, 12pm and 2:30pm.

You are racing against the clock and the quickest of your 3 attempts will be kept, and the fastest wins overall. Grand prize for this year has been upped to $1000! We will also have smaller prizes for best ingenuity, uniqueness, most dangerous, people's choice, etc.

Ground Vehicle Rules:

  • are only required to go around all four exterior walls of the building. No “exact” course will be marked, but sections will be roped off to keep spectators off of the main “expected” course.
  • No environmental modifications allowed (competitors may not put down tape, IR beacons, or any other temporary or semi-permanent marks).
  • There will be 4 large barrels placed as obstacles on the course, spaced no closer than 15' to each other, positions to be determined on race day.
  • Raw times for each run will be calculated from when a ground vehicle first crosses the start/finish line, goes around the building, and again crosses the start finish line. If a vehicle becomes stuck for more than 60 seconds it is disqualified for that run (that’s usually enough time to determine that there’s a problem).
  • There will be a 3' diameter arch (imagine croquet) located somewhere on the course, actual position to be determined on race day. Any ground vehicle that goes through the hoop gets 30 seconds off their official time for that run. The arch will be painted red for ease of optical identification, and a picture of this arch will be made available before race day for all competitors to see.
  • Max time limit per run is 5 minutes.
  • Kill switches are required for vehicles over 30 pounds, to be demonstrated to the judges on race day.

Air Vehicle Rules:

  • Must also go around all four exterior walls of the building.
  • The lap time will be calculated from when the Judge says 'Go' to when the plane comes to a halt in the back parking lot. A landing (autonomous or manned) outside the rear parking lot will disqualify the lap time.
  • Weather permitting, balloons on long freaking strings will be launched from the four corners of the building. The balloons will serve as guides for the judges/competitors as to the location of the corners/walls of which the non-ground vehicles must circumnavigate.
  • Regardless of weather/wind, the vehicles must clear the four exterior walls/corners of the building (not the balloons), verification of clearing the vertical plane will be up to the four line judges.
  • Autonomous take off is worth a 10 second reduction from raw time.
  • Wheel carriages are allowed for aircraft that don't have their own wheels. Human assisted take-off (throwing a plane) is not considered autonomous.
  • Autonomous landing (coming to a halt) within the indicated box is worth a 30 second reduction in time
  • Within SFE back lot parking area (not in the box, but must be on our blacktop) gets a 10 second reduction in raw time.
  • Time reductions will also be awarded for the three planes that have the lowest peak altitude. To calculate this altitude, SFE will have devices available (likely made up of DEV-09530, SEN-09694 and PRT-00731, came in at 6.71g), weighing no more that 15 grams, to be placed on the UAV by the Judge via double-sided tape on the day of the race. A 60 second reduction goes to the lowest peak, 30 seconds for the second lowest, and 15 seconds for the third lowest. Competitors may also opt not to carry these devices and forego the possibility of a reduced time.

    If a vehicle fails to complete its run, the total number of successfully navigated turns and distance will become the team's score rather than the time. Completed distance takes precedence over time. Example: a ¾ completion in 2 minutes beats ½ completion in 1 minute. Ultimately, the best time for a full lap takes the cake.

    By purchasing this product you are purchasing an official entry to the day of competition. You are welcome to purchase an entry at any time, but last year we had a problem with people signing up and then 'not being able to make it'. We will have more team entries than spots available, so to prevent teams from signing up and then being unable to attend, we will require every official team to submit a video no later than April 1st showing their robot driving forward and making a turn. Nothing fancy. If an official team does not submit their video in time, they will forfeit their spot and the spot will be given to a team on the waiting list.

    Autonomous means your bot/car/plane/heli has to drive itself. You press the start button, three seconds later the robot begins navigation under its own control. There can be no human interaction. The car cannot receive any commands over any medium from a human operator. It is allowed to transmit debug information and receive any other signals (GPS, proximity, etc).

Update: We've limited the total number of entrants to 50. We were too ambitious and unfortunately it doesn't look like we're going to be able to accommodate unlimited entries. However, we are allowing backorders, so if you still want to compete, you can enter and there's bound to be someone that drops out.

Prerequisites: **None! Bring a robot.
April 23rd, 2011 (a few days after US Tax day)
Time: 8:30AM to around 5PM

Looking for a course preview? Look no further (well, a little bit's just below)!


Looking for answers to technical questions?

We welcome your comments and suggestions below. However, if you are looking for solutions to technical questions please see our Technical Assistance page.

  • whatisalias / about 13 years ago / 4

    air vehicles should get 30s bonus for going through the ground vehicle arch.

  • Gill Bates / about 13 years ago / 3

    Hi Sparkfun, we are poor college students from San Diego and are using a good part of our budget to fly from San Diego to Boulder. If we bring our sleeping bags, could we sleep in the Sparkfun building?

    • I've got no say in the matter, but if it clears with the higher-ups we can probably put y'all up in IT. Chances are that there will be at least one in-house team camping out squashing last minute bugs in their (our?) code...

    • Member #39527 / about 13 years ago * / 1


  • MattTheGeek / about 13 years ago / 3

    "Weather permitting, balloons on long freaking strings will be launched from the four corners of the building." i love that line.

  • I don't suppose these giant barrels are going to be painted a specific, bright color, by any chance... ? :)
    Curious about the arch, but I'll be lucky enough if my robot avoids crashing into it, let alone actually passing through it...

  • JohnGalt / about 13 years ago / 2

    A couple questions:
    How much contact must a Ground vehicle maintain with the ground?
    Is it allowable to survey key points on the course such as the position of the arch and various obstacles and use that info to program the vehicle prior to start?

    • Reed / about 13 years ago / 1

      I second the question about last minute program changes. That could be rather important and be a game breaker/maker for some bots.
      "Look for the arch/pylon/pothole after this corner but not this corner."
      Restrictions and inclusions on this would force entrants to possibly make adaptive programming that learns after a lap.
      Also I want to see one of the planes at least -try- for the arch.

  • madprog / about 13 years ago / 2

    Why does this have shipping charges?

  • MTMentat / about 13 years ago / 2

    How/when are you limiting the flying category? 15 slots... what if 30 teams want to do flying?

  • bzerk / about 13 years ago / 2

    Question the first: If I can't make it there myself, can I still send a robot/vehicle to compete?
    Question the second: Must the entire vehicle complete the course? i.e. are multi-stage vehicles allowed?
    Question the third: How do you guys feel about violations of the Model Rocket Safety Code?

    • Rockets? No rockets. Casey from mechanical engineering tried to build a rocket for the first AVC. He had multiple tests out back behind the building a couple weeks before the event. I think the best he did was a mild, uncontrolled right turn. The worst he did was to hit the window of the building next to us. So no, no rockets.

    • project240dotnet / about 13 years ago / 2

      I'm fascinated by the idea of sending in a multi-stage, part-dispersing rocket to self-compete in knowing violation of the established safety code.
      Last year, there was some talk of making a rocket-glider with four stages, where a stage was fired on each side of the building. This rocket glider could be a stubby-winged X-15-variant that concentrated more on speed and less on maximum CL. An alternative would be to use a pylon racer or even a dynamic-soaring sailplane, equipped with the four-booster stages. Both these aircraft have a huge capacity for pulling Gs (high CL) without much airspeed loss due to drag. If the vehicle is fast enough, there is no reason to bother with flying the four legs. Instead, it could be one large orbit around the building, with rockets firing at each 90 degree point.
      If you send in your robot to self-compete, please also provide a bucket of safety goggles.

  • That Grasshopper AVC graphic is very rad. Will we see it on a T-shirt?

  • Member #145744 / about 13 years ago / 1

    When will you upload pictures of the "arch"?

  • No-one / about 13 years ago / 1

    Where's the 2011 poster?

  • jacknife / about 13 years ago / 1

    glad my EE prof reminded me about this yesterday, wanted to come up and watch last year but forgot and missed it.

  • Ted M / about 13 years ago / 1

    So, where do we submit the demonstration video? It is getting close to the deadline.

  • jessejay / about 13 years ago * / 1

    Is there a deadline for entry? I won't know for a while if I have something worth entering. Like everyone else, waiting till last minute to work on my bot! I know you want a video by April 1st, but if allowing unlimited ground vehicles, I don't see the point.

  • The rules state that the vehicles must be autonomous, but does all of the processing have to be done on-board? What I'm asking is can the controlling software be sent from a base-station wirelessly to the vehicle, as long as the software itself is autonomous?
    I'm not planning to attend, but I think it is something people might want to consider to have high processing power and still keep the vehicles small and light.

    • jessejay / about 13 years ago / 1

      the rules say no base stations, so unless they change that rule you cannot do this currently. See above, you cannot even use DGPS by setting up second GPS receiver. I think this about being a self contained. Why not automate an ATV and put the computer on that! ;) Or a full size helicopter. evil laugh

  • Gravis / about 13 years ago / 1

    are there still potholes on the AVC "course"?

  • Sam R. / about 13 years ago / 1

    If we want to host an AVC SparkFun competition not at SparkFun.....but other places in the country, is there a way that we could do that? I'm thinking AVC's all over the US.... :) Would anyone want to do that????

  • mbrown9412 / about 13 years ago / 1

    This looks like great fun to watch - Maybe I'll be there :D

  • Greenlight / about 13 years ago / 1

    I live in broomfield can i stop by the building for test runs?

  • steveta3 / about 13 years ago / 1

    Are we allowed to set up a stationary GPS receiver away from the track which sends correction data to our vehicle? The Differential GPS base station is not a modification to the track, such as a marker, however, it can't be part of our vehicle.

  • Max_Phil / about 13 years ago / 1

    How about some time for traversing the pond? Extra for submerged! Is there a limit on size? Is it a DQ for "accidentally" running over the competition?

  • RobertoG / about 13 years ago / 1

    If you get Tiffany Brissette to wave a flag in the start line, I will consider it...

    • RobertoG / about 13 years ago / 2

      Just kidding. My participation depends on whether I can get my design working.

      • trevor / about 13 years ago / 1

        Apparently, Tiffany now lives here in Boulder. I've never met her, though. If she was interested in waving the flag at the start line, I think we might be able to work something out.

  • Member #103256 / about 13 years ago / 1

    Can you tell us the dimensions of the barrels and the arch? Do they have feet sticking out at the bottom to stabilize them? If so, what are the dimensions of the feet?
    Interested in the width of the arch (the solid part around the hole). Crochet sounds like 1/8" wire!
    Are these obstacles going to remain fixed on race day (meaning that they could, in theory, be mapped on race day before the races). Or are they moved between (or just prior to) each trial so that mapping can not be done?
    Finally, am I correct in understanding that hitting a barrel or arch doesn't reduce the score for the run (if the vehicle still completes the course)?

  • is it possible to enter both an air and a ground vehicle?

  • Can the vehicle be a gas powered RC car with the RC guts ripped out? That would be awesome to have a gas powered car runnin' around on GPS!!

    • Don't rip all the guts out! Throw a servo controller, GPS unit and an arduino on there and you're golden! The SSC can control all of the functions the remote usually does using a microcontroller-friendly serial data line.
      Note that when you have bugs in your software and your gas-powered 'bot goes straight into a curb at 30mph you might curse your math skills. I mean, if that happens to you. glances around nervously

  • jbrandmeyer / about 13 years ago / 1

    Not to be too much of a spoil-sport, but you should also carefully consider the FAA rules as well. See the FAA fact sheet for a quick introduction and Rule AC91-57 for details. In particular, vehicles must stay less than 400' AGL, and be successfully flight tested prior to the competition day. Additionally, the competition is on the hairy edge of being within 3 miles of the muni airport, and SFE should notify the airport authorities about the competition.
    The "is of sufficient distance from populated areas" may be a sticking point with the airport. Perhaps a max weight limit would be acceptable, with failsafe required on all aircraft regardless of weight.

    • N.Poole / about 13 years ago / 1

      Having spent my fair share of time in a single-engine low-wing at a busy regional airport, I have to say, you DON'T wanna fool around with the FAA. If it is a fact that it's necessary to inform the nearby airport, probably not a bad idea...
      On the other hand, will they ever really know? I mean, is this something you would worry about if you were just a guy with a model plane?
      I don't know, so I'm just posing the questions for consideration. lol

    • JohnGalt / about 13 years ago / 1

      Sparkfun is 1.80 miles, heading 15 degrees from BDU per google earth. It would appear that notification rules apply.

  • bbotany / about 13 years ago / 1

    "Time reductions will also be awarded for the three planes that have the lowest peak altitude."
    Lowest and fastest... I think there's a movie title in that somewhere.

    • MTMentat / about 13 years ago / 1

      Anyone else thinking that the lowest altitude time reduction might give a quadcopter the win this year?

  • Member #76600 / about 13 years ago / 1

    Team Death By Pinetree is in!
    Some clarifications please...
    Last year there was some rule about all parts of the vehicle had to complete the course. This year there is a rule that says "Wheel carriages are allowed for aircraft that don't have their own wheels." Does that mean the aircraft can leave the "wheel carriage" behind?
    I have purchased an entry. How do I designate that I will bring an air vehicle entry? Can I have my shipping charge and sales tax back?
    When will Miles Per Gallon release a CD of their live performance last year ;) ?

  • Member #73574 / about 13 years ago / 1

    Looks like registration link broken. Also, is it $30 to just watch (no airframe to compete)?

  • AdamB / about 13 years ago / 1

    What if I want to make a dual (ground and air) entry? We had talked after last year's (totally awesome!) AVC about two vehicles, one on the ground and a follower in the air. I've got some of the components working on the bench, but haven't tested any of it yet. If that would be allowed it, I could start field testing next month...

  • madsci1016 / about 13 years ago / 1

    If I buy this with Free Day money, does something magical happen?

    • project240dotnet / about 13 years ago / 2

      Sorry, nothing magical happens. I just entered with my Free Day money and nothing amazing has happened - save for a Leprechaun who just rode past on a robotic unicorn who excretes rainbows each time he jumps.

      • N.Poole / about 13 years ago / 1

        That was a fluke.
        I haven't bought an entry yet and I just saw the same Leprechaun.

      • madsci1016 / about 13 years ago / 1

        Phew, Ok I'm not the only one that saw that then.

  • I've bought an entry, but how do I declare that it's an aircraft to make the 15 team cutoff?

  • phishinphree / about 13 years ago / 1

    A few quick questions:
    First, do you have gps coords for the takeoff/landing zones?
    Second, are we allowed to let our gps get a good lock before we the timer starts.
    Third, are the dimensions of your building posted somewhere?
    I don't trust google maps for gps locations especially since local atmospheric effects can shift things around a bit day to day.

  • Sam R. / about 13 years ago / 1

    YEAH!!! Been waiting for this all year. UAV currently in the making.....hope theres a competition next year. Is there a way that you guys could stream the competition to your website?? I'd love to watch!!!

  • MoriFi / about 13 years ago / 1

    are hovercrafts/levatation allowed.

  • dbrunner / about 13 years ago / 1

    I have enough problems avoiding barrels and potholes when I drive! This could be pretty interesting trying to do it autonomously...

  • Nogginboink / about 13 years ago / 1

    Are GPS coordinates of the building (especially the building's corners) available?
    If not, and I sneak into your parking lot at night and make these measurements myself, is that cheating?

    • I think we've posted this in year's past. No need though, just go to google maps and do it yourself. google maps has a feature where you can click a point and get a lat/lon value.

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