DIY Robocar Races

The Scene:

In Oakland just about a mile east of the Oakland Bay Bridge toll plaza there is a warehouse complex now shared by artists, truck drivers, and a motley group of nerds engaged in the latest iteration of the ancient tradition of racing. The warehouse is a little weedy and rusty, just enough to make me feel at home as my feet kick up dust on this uncharacteristically hot and dry day in June.

The Mouth of the Track 20170617_135307.jpg

Inside the warehouse about 30 people ranging in age from 8 to 60 are milling about the track and a series of wheeled work benches. A dozen fresh faces are here asking questions and while some are spectators and reporters most of them are new enthusiasts learning as much as they can before they go home to work on their own cars. The scene is new, and growing. Eight months ago the first race was held, six months ago the first car successfully completed a circuit, now the race is on to see who can be the first to beat a strong human driver.


The Races:

Roughly half the entrants this week are able to complete the course. For now the race is less about excitement than it is about adorability. The crowds biggest reaction today comes not from a car driving especially fast but from when a car completely leaves the track and then comes to a halt in sad confusion just one turn from the finish line on what could have been a race winning time.

After the individual races are finished entrants are invited to pit their cars head to head and two racers are able to share the road quite successfully performing just as well with live competition as they did alone.


Looking Forward:

No track record is set today, in part because the current record holding car’s camera and camera mount was damaged during practice while testing the limits of the car’s adaptive control model.

But everyone is excited for the future. After racing ends builders swarm back onto the track to collect more data for their cars and discuss plans for next month’s entries.

Taking the bots out for a strollAs for this blog, I intend to be back next month to see what new developments have happened and with a good deal of sweat I may even be putting a car in the race.

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