SparkFun AVC 2013

09 June 2013

share this:
AVC 2013 Logo

Most robotics hobbyists will be familiar with the name SparkFun, associating it with an electronics and robotics parts and kits supply house, located in Boulder, Colorado, and perhaps also with the instructional videos they publish on their YouTube channel.

The SparkFun Autonomous Vehicle Competition (AVC) for 2013 took place Saturday, June 8th, on a strip of land separating Boulder Reservoir from a private lake to the south. The event site was fenced in, encompassing what I’d guess to be about ten acres, with an adjacent area of water of similar dimensions marked off by buoys for the aerial course. There was also a fence around the ground course, to separate the vehicles from the crowd.

Held annually since 2009, this is the first time that AVC has not been held on SparkFun’s home turf, located just across CO 119 from the reservoir. The weather for AVC 2013 was nearly ideal, and very comfortable, with only a light breeze, moderate temperature, about 50% cloud cover, but only the occasional drop of rain, and dewpoint about 40°F lower than the temperature. Barometric pressure was on the low side (29.98 in. Hg or lower, corrected to sea level), which may help account for some of the troubles in the aerial competition.

The ambiance was reminiscent of a country fair, with three food trucks on site, a sideshow or two, and raffle drawings based on a variety of parameters (instances of vehicles running into a barrel, number of vehicular collisions, etc.) during particular runs in the ground competition. There was music, intermittent sunshine on fresh green grass, a sandy beach and water that looked swimmable. And not least, the announcers for both ground and aerial competitions had comfortable control of their respective sound-spaces, keeping running commentaries going without resorting to elongated vowels or repetition.

As explained by Robert Cowan in an introductory video published two months prior to the event, featured on the 2013 event website, the move to the reservoir is not the only change from previous years. Instead of the fastest time determining the winner, a point system incorporating bonus points for accomplishment of specific tasks while negotiating the course was used.

On the ground, contestants started out with 300 points, from which one point was deducted for each second required to complete the course. Bonus points were awarded for each corner passed, for going through a hoop, and for jumping a ramp. In the air, contestants started out with 600 points, again with one point deducted for each second used. Aerial bonus points were awarded for crossing over the tip of a peninsula, for dropping a tennis ball onto that peninsula, for passing under a twenty-foot high ‘wicket’, for an autonomous landing, and for an autonomous landing within a restricted area. Most of the aerial course was over water.

In the aerial competition, they could have added a bonus for becoming airborne and establishing stable autonomous control, as failing to accomplish one or the other was a frequent occurrence. Perhaps teams from lower elevations underestimated how much difference a few thousand feet can make.

For the ground competition, vehicles were divided into one of four categories: Micro/PBR (less than $350 total spent, or small enough to fit into box that’s 10″x6″x4″), Doping ($1k+ or 25lbs+), Non-traditional locomotion (walker, pogostick, Segway-like balancing, motorized hamster ball, etc.) and Peloton (anything that didn’t fit in one of the other classes). There was also a student class (any robot that is 80% designed and built by high school or younger students), for which any student-built robot qualified, regardless of category. For the aerial competition there was no division into categories.

Autonomous operation is the key ingredient of this event, and overall I was very impressed with the results. For ground vehicles, the only human intervention allowed was at the starting line, to set the vehicle in motion. For aerial vehicles there was a similar requirement, except that manual landing was allowed, with autonomous landing constituting a bonus. While not altogether unique, this combination of autonomous operation and an open-air setting is rare, and precautions were in evidence everywhere, beginning with the waiver to be signed as a condition of entry at the ticket booth.

This sign was no idle warning. By the middle of the day, I’d seen one aerial vehicle rescued from diving into the crowd by a quick thinking operator who took over manual control just in time, another, which failed to get off the ground, taxiing directly toward a young spectator, and prevented from running right into him only because it was precisely centered between two of the posts ringing the parking lot (being used as a start line and landing strip) and its wings were too wide to fit between them. I’d also seen one over-eager ground vehicle go into the infield and do its best to climb a vertical object of some sort, and another, built from a full-sized go-cart, and therefore heavy enough to be dangerous, pin itself against the fence. There was a medical tent, staffed by paramedics, and an ambulance on standby, just in case.

While such risks go with the state of the art of autonomous robotics, the precautions proved adequate, and SparkFun is to be congratulated for a very professionally produced event.

Lest I leave you with the impression that the courses and bonus challenges were too much for the poor robots, I should add that several of the aerial contestants not only completed the course but racked up all of the bonus points. In the ground vehicle competition, more than a few entrants also finished the course, although I don’t know whether any of them also got all of the bonus points. For detailed results of the competitions, keep an eye on the event website, and on SparkFun’s YouTube channel.

tags: , , , , , ,

John Payne

Related posts :

New imaging method makes tiny robots visible in the body

Microrobots have the potential to revolutionize medicine. Researchers at the Max Planck ETH Centre for Learning Systems have now developed an imaging technique that for the first time recognises cell-​sized microrobots individually and at high resolution in a living organism.
20 May 2022, by

A draft open standard for an Ethical Black Box

Within the RoboTIPS project, we have developed and tested several model of Ethical Black Boxes, including one for an e-puck robot, and another for the MIRO robot.
19 May 2022, by

Unable to attend #ICRA2022 for accessibility issues? Or just curious to see robots?

There are many things that can make it difficult to attend an in person conference in the United States and so the ICRA Organizing Committee, the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society and OhmniLabs would like to help you attend ICRA virtually.
17 May 2022, by



Duckietown Competition Spotlight, with Dr Liam Paull

Dr. Liam Paull, cofounder of the Duckietown competition talks about the only robotics competition where Rubber Duckies are the passengers on an autonomous driving track.
17 May 2022, by

Designing societally beneficial Reinforcement Learning (RL) systems

In this post, we aim to illustrate the different modalities harms can take when augmented with the temporal axis of RL. To combat these novel societal risks, we also propose a new kind of documentation for dynamic Machine Learning systems which aims to assess and monitor these risks both before and after deployment.
15 May 2022, by

Innovative ‘smart socks’ could help millions living with dementia

‘Smart socks’ that track rising distress in the wearer could improve the wellbeing of millions of people with dementia, non-verbal autism and other conditions that affect communication.
13 May 2022, by

©2021 - ROBOTS Association


©2021 - ROBOTS Association