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The Autonomous Roboticist

Since September 2016 I've been competing in the NASA Space Robotics Centennial Challenge (SRC). The challenge had a qualifying period and the final competition. I was one of the twenty teams from an international pool who qualified for the final competition. In mid-June the competitors ran their entries on a simulation in the cloud. The last few days, June 28 -30th capped the competition with a celebration at Space Center Houston, an education and entertainment facility next to the NASA Johnson Space Center.

On Thursday, the 29th, teams were invited to give presentations to the other teams, the NASA people who organized the challenge, and others. I used the opportunity to speak about my approach to the competition but also to raise the question of how an amateur roboticist, like myself, can make a meaningful contribution to robotics. 
Two ways are through competitions like this and by contributing software to the Robot Operating System (ROS). There aren't always competitions …
Recent posts

Moving Onto Linux

A brief note to set the stage for some posts I'll be making: I have switched to Linux. With the expiration of XP support it was time to switch and I wanted to get off the Windows treadmill. I also wanted to switch to start using Robot Operating System (ROS) with OpenCV for my projects.

I bought a bare-bones desktop machine with quad-core I7 @ 3.6 GHz with 8 Gb of memory. Just a TB of disk since I don't store a lot of video, games, etc. I add a System 76 laptop also with quad-core I7 but not as fast, also with 8 Gb memory. I went with high end machines but didn't pay for the premium processors which would have added $$200-300 to the cost. My thought was to get machines that will last for 5-6 years if they don't break.

Both have Ubuntu 14.04 LTS but I could not stand the Unity interface. Sorry, but these machines shouldn't look like giant smartphones. I installed Gnome to get a menuing interface.

I've been quite happy and have gotten used to Linux. There are stil…

Cold Turkey on Linux

I bit the bullet a few weeks ago with Linux. I was getting ready to go to WPI for the SRR competition and decided to go cold turkey on my laptop. I put in a SSD and loaded Zorin Linux. It us recommended as a substitute for Win XP. One reason I liked it is the rolling upgrades instead of the Ubuntu staged upgrades.

There was still frustration. The WiFi did not work so I used the software updater to install the drivers it found from Broadcom. The OS would not boot after that. I reinstalled just before leaving and took the memory stick with the Zorin Live distro with me figuring I could always reload from it. I was impressed by the quickness of the installation. That encouraged me since if I messed up the laptop I could always quickly reinstall. I also had my iPad so accessing email, FB, and Twitter (I did a lot of tweeting with photos) were always available. 
I kept busy so it was not until Friday night up in VT to visit my sister that I had time to do much with the laptop. I cannot reca…

Programming Language and Vision Processing for SRR 2014

Here is an update for 2014 of the survey I did last year on the software used by the teams. I did not compete this year but could not stay away. I arrived on the 10th and left late on the 13th. I missed the Saturday re-run of the Level 1 competition. I sent a lot of tweets with pictures. Check the tag #srrbot on Twitter.

Team Language    Vision Processing
Intrepid     C++/Matlab Kuukulgur    C++          OpenCV Survey       C++, Python  OpenCV Middleman    LabView      LabView UCSC         C/C++        OpenCV Waterloo     C++,Python WPI          C++           Wunderkammer Python       ROS vision packages
Oregon State C++/Python   OpenCV
Sourcerers   C++          OpenCV
Retrievers   Python       OpenCV
UCSC         C/C++        OpenCV
West Virginia Python/C++  OpenCV
Cephal       Python       OpenCV
Stellar      VB           RoboRealm
Fetch        C#           OpenCV
Fomicarum    Java         OpenCV

Almost all the teams used Linux and ROS. 

Science Fair and Texas Torque, FIRST Robotics World Chapmions

I spent today at the a local science fair event. There are more of them spread over the next few weekends. Today's had an elementary school festival and science / math bowl competitions. Next week is the Junior High and, the week after, the Senior High Engineering Design Competition. These both involve building robots.

There was also a robotics demonstration today  and I volunteered for it, naturally. The main activity was the Texas Torque team demonstrating their robot, which won last year's FIRST World Championship. It also was one of the teams leading the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade last November. Last year's challenge was to throw Frisbees through rectangles at one end of the arena.

Not only is the robot impressive but so are the team members. I spoke with Robert and Matthew, mainly, but a couple others approached me to see if I had questions. This competition is for high-school students and, to be blunt, you have to be impressed by their poise and ability to en…

Team Waterloo Research Paper on SRR

Team Waterloo published about their work on a robot for the 2012 and 2013 NASA Sample Return Robot Centennial Challenges.
Mapping, Planning, and Sample Detection Strategies for Autonomous Exploration This paper presents algorithmic advances and field trial results for autonomous exploration and proposes a solution to perform simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), complete coverage, and object detection without relying on GPS or magnetometer data. We demonstrate an integrated approach to the exploration problem, and we make specific contributions in terms of mapping, planning, and sample detection strategies that run in real-time on our custom platform. Field tests demonstrate reliable performance for each of these three main components of the system individually, and high-fidelity simulation based on recorded data playback demonstrates the viability of the complete solution as applied to the 2013 NASA Sample Return Robot Challenge.  It is the Journal of Field Robotics in the Wil…

Accelerating SRR Development While Gyrating Wildly

Decoding the title, I am experimenting with the Phidgets 1042 spatial sensor, also known as an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). This IMU contains an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and a compass. The compass is not allowed for competing in the SRR so it is being ignored.

I worked with this IMU for the 2013 SRR but could not get the results needed so I put it aside. Since the first of the year and getting more serious about the 2014 SRR, I began working with it more.

As I did last year, I began working with code I found that would fuse the accelerometer and gyroscope data into a single reading of the global pose of the robot. The results never came out correct. The main problem was the reading for bearing, primarily based on the gyroscope data, was inaccurate. I setup a servo to rotate the IMU through 90 degrees (or a fairly close approximation) but the results usually were less, somewhere in the mid-80 degree range.

After fussing with the code I decided to try a really basic test. First, …