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Come with me to the Sparkfun Autonomous Vehicle Competition

July 13, 2015
Many competitors met their match/end on the Discombobulator, Sparkfun's incredibly dangerous new obstacle course addition. Source: Sparkfun
Many competitors met their match/end on the Discombobulator, Sparkfun’s incredibly dangerous new obstacle course addition. Source: Sparkfun

It wouldn’t be June in Colorado without the Sparkfun Autonomous Vehicle Competition. Started back in 2009, the annual event is held at their global headquarters near Boulder, CO. 

It was the first event at their new location and sadly, due to their proximity to a major road, the aerial portion of the competition was not to be had this year.

If you haven’t been an AVC before, the concept is similar to the original DARPA Grand Challenge, but on a much smaller scale: specifically, the size of the parking lot at Sparkfun. Ground vehicles (of various mobility) costing only a few hundred dollars are hacked together to compete in heats with about five other robots, though some don’t always make it to the line. The course consists of four right hand turns, barrel obstacles, and other competitors, who may not be as responsible or friendly as Google vs Delphi.

There are time bonuses for navigating through hoops and jumping ramps. New this year was shortcut option with an obstacle called the Discombobulator. A spinning platform, aimed at completely disoriented any robot that dared to cross it. The robots take on all sorts of different designs from the traditionally converted RC car, to a modified FIRST robot. I was highly impressed by a hexapod entry in the non-traditional class.

Firey destruction in Sparkfun's Combat Bot arena. Source: Sparkfun
Firey destruction in Sparkfun’s Combat Bot arena. Source: Sparkfun

This is a highly spirited event with a newly added micro robot combat in lieu of the aerial competition and all sorts of workshops throughout the day. Even if you weren’t able to attend there were a few options allowing you to get involved. There was the live web feed and then there was Twitch. Using an EdiBot frame, Twitch was a crowdsource controlled bot, that anyone was able to command taking the inputs as they were received, allowing multiple people to control it at once. What could possibly go wrong? While he was scheduled to run on a few heats, Twitch barely made it off the line to the first right turn.

Check out the Sparkfun video recap below:

Michael Savoie Michael is the founder and Chief Robot Wizard at Frostbyte Technologies, a start-up aimed at developing autonomous outdoor mobile robots... read more


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