When we competed in the IGVC last year we thought that was big time. Build a small vehicle that can navigate through an obstacle course by itself? Sounds like fun! From that project sprouted Y-clops. An autonomous vehicle with only one camera, a compass, and a GPS sensor that could drive faster than any other vehicle at the IGVC. Our original plans were to go back next year and try for a few better runs at the competition. Then something fell into our laps.
"We'll give you the car, and the drive-by-wire kit, you make it drive by itself".
As I've mentioned this project to people I associate with that are not involved in anything computer-related, the reactions follow two veins:
"Wow, sounds like fun" --in a tone that really says, "I can already drive a car, it can't be that hard to make a computer do it."
"Oh, um, neat" --as their eyelids start do droop and they begin to tone out anything with the words "computers" or "engineering".
Occasionally I find someone who realizes the scope of this project and its potential impact on humanity. From those people come looks of astonishment. I think I've seen those looks before, yes, they're the looks you get when people think you're crazy for attempting the seemingly impossible.
We obtained our vehicle on January 11, 2007. Ninety-three days until the video is due. That's frightnening. Not as frightening as it would be if we had waited for the car just to get started. Truth is, most of the work is not done while we're in or on the car. Sensors can be purchased before hand, algorithms written on desktop computers, the list of things that need to be done before we can even use the car goes on and on...
Back to the vehicle,
SICK LIDAR (6)
NovAtel GPS with OmniStar correction service
Honeywell 3-axis compass
Flea-2 Micro firewire camera (2)
Yet to be determined
Our algorithms are currently being written in C, C++, Visual C++, VIsual Basic, and Java. We are adopting the same interprocess communication protocols that the pronto-4 drive-by-wire kit uses. We would tell you more, but then we'd have to kill you.
IMU - Yet to be purchased
National Instruments Control Hardware
Our software is written in a jumble of formats and uses a shared variable system for inter-process communcation. We can use the wheel encoders and an IMU to model the physics of the van and create controls loops for steering, acceleration, and breaking.