Fail Sauce

It’s said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Today, we found our weak link.

LunOrediggers was the 10th pick over all to compete, however we ended up going 4th since there were less then 10 ten with entries that were competing.

We passed inspection, weighing in at just over 68kg1. We received our briefing on our allotted five minutes of setup time and then went to work. Like a well oiled machine, we were ready and set with time to spare.

The judges counted down to power on: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…power on.

Now this is the interesting part. The initialization sequence takes some time to complete. So even after power is applied, there isn’t any movement for a few seconds. However, the seconds soon changed into minutes. The judges reported that we were drawing no current, which was not a good sign.

After five minutes, we finally called it. Testing confirmed that the proper power was present at the connector. The judges reconnected the power cable to rover and powered it back on just to make sure. A few seconds later, things starting moving.

In somewhat of a confused panic, the judges quickly cut power. The issue had been that while we had inserted the plug into our connector, we hadn’t twisted it to lock it. This was simply because we weren’t familiar with the plug, which was a competition defined and provided part.

A temporary reprieve was issued as the judges went off to discus things.

Sometime later, they came back and decided they owned some of the responsibility between the mating of our technology and theirs. Thus, we were allowed to restart and run!

Round two began well enough. The rover powered up and began it’s initialization cycle. The sensor turret on the top moved around and then, nothing. Well not actually nothing, the sensor turret just kept performing its sweep. But the rover didn’t move. After a few minutes, we called it quits again; this time for real.

And that brings us back to the weakest link. What went wrong? Well, we haven’t had a formal diagnostic, but it seems to be a programming issue. The rover was positioned in a corner of the sandbox, with its front facing the corner. The IR sensors were close enough to the wall that they were being triggered before the rover even moved. Due to the way our error handling algorithm works, this caused the rover to continuously skip to the next command in the sequence, which left us standing still.

There is some good news though. Tomorrow, we’ll be testing again in a demonstration program. This will allow us to vet some of our other systems. There will be no rules for this demo, so we should be able to perform a complete cycle.

I’ll have some more updates and pictures tomorrow. However, more sleep is needed at this particular moment in time.

1 The maximum weight allowed was 70kg

(cross posted from

Competition Weekend Begins

After many hours of travel, I’m finally in San Luis Obispo. My journey actually took a rather unfortunate turn even before I left.

As I was checking into my flight online last night, there was a message saying that my flight from Seattle to Salt Lake City (SLC) was going to be delayed by 90 minutes. Well, this was no good since my connecting flight from SLC to Santa Barbara (SBA) would be gone by then.

I called up Delta and talked to a service representative about what my options were. I basically had two options:

  1. Fly to SLC and catch the 9:30pm flight to Santa Barbara
  2. Fly to Los Angeles (LAX) and get picked up there

I decided to fly to LAX since I didn’t want to fly in so late to SBA. Unfortunately, the LAX flight left over an hour earlier then the SLC flight and I had already spent at least 45 minutes on the phone with Delta. Thus, I only ended up getting 3 hours of sleep.

Woke up and left the house at 4:50am. When I got to the airport, I took a look at the flight board and saw that there was a 6:00am flight to SLC that would allow me to make my original connection from SLC to SBA. After vigorously asking several different gate attendants, it seemed that the flight to SLC was indeed completely full (no doubt because there was a plane load of people trying to do exactly what I was doing).

So I flew into LAX on an Embraer ERJ-145, which I thought was kind of odd because usually 737-type planes fly that route. As I as getting off, I overheard a girl talking to her dad about her flight to SLC being delayed and how she was going to San Luis Obispo (SLO). This obviously piqued my interest, so I asked her how she was able to get a ticket. After talking with Delta for over an hour, she was able to get a ticket from LAX to SLO on American Eagle, who are apparently codeshare partners with Delta.

I thanked her for the information and went to find a check-in reservationist at the Delta counter. After presenting my case to the reservationist, she was baffled why the person who helped me with my arrangements last night wasn’t able to figure out that I could get all the way to Santa Barbara on American Eagle.

A short time later, I found myself on a flight to the Santa Barbara Airport on a Saab 340 turboprop, arriving only 10 minutes later then I would have if my original flight had worked as planned.

I’m now sitting in on the floor of a restaurant that’s being remodeled. The management at the local Holiday Inn Express has graciously allowed us to use the space as an impromptu work area.

The competition starts tomorrow and you can watch it live (kind of) at

You can also check back here or at the official CSM NERDS website