Status Update

Filed in General Information by on August 16, 2011 11 Comments

I just wanted to check in and provide everyone a status update. I am on vacation (we get and take very few on the Robotics Resource Center) so please forgive any autocorrects, mistypings, or slow responses, particularly to email… I’ll do my best.

The status update is that nothing much has changed. I hadn’t posted recently because I had thought we were very close to completing the process, but we here at WPI are still in a holding pattern as we await the legal counsel finalization of the team agreement.

Truth is, I know how very frustrating this is to everyone. For the many of you who may have looked me up, you know that I do compete in a lot of robotics tournaments myself (Regolith Excavation, Battlebots, FIRST, etc) as well as manage tournaments as part of my job. I take it seriously. If I didn’t, I’d be at the beach right now and not writing this message. However, there is nothing I can do but continue to to bug the folks on the other end to keep the process moving, which I continue to do.

Reality is, the delay centers entirely around then team agreement. There have been concerns in the past about it, particularly it’s vagueness in certain areas, and those were concerns many of you brought up. In fact, some folks brought them up during the rules review even though they are not part of the rules but rather the TA. From what I know, these concerns came to a head in some other challenges and it was decided it needed to be fixed moving forward. Is this a good thing? Absolutely. It just came at a very bad time given where we were in the release of our competition documents such that it had some of the greatest effects on us.

So the long and short of it is, we are waiting on the team agreement. To answer the age-old, “why can’t you post the final rules?”. It’s an order of operations issue. There is an order things must happen in and that currently prevents the final rules from being posted.

The draft rules were taken down to allow for a clear period designated for review, and to ensure the folks designing the ame were not getting all the competitor input last minute. Obviously, as you can all plainly see by the anticipated final rules posting date, it was never intended to be a long time without any rules on the web. I have a hard time, at this point, reposting a rules document that I know has significant changes. However, I have sent a copy of the rules to those who have requested it through email. If I didn’t, I apologize and you should just resend the request… It’s likely it just hit the spam folder and I didn’t catch it.

Even though it’s already come back to bite me, I will continue to be open with everyone about what is going on through out the entire challenge process. I’m not asking for sympathy or pity, but I do ask you to have an understanding that there is a lot more wheels in motion here than you may realize, and many more factors to account for before even small tasks can take place.

Should you be less demanding? No way. Trust me that I know that competing in this challenge is just one of many things in your life, after family, work, etc. Your busy, it’s a tough challenge, and it’s doesn’t need to be made any harder. I respect that. I only ask that you try to be as respectful as possible of our side of things. Believe that we are on your side and really do want to enable you to be as successful as you can be.

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  1. avatar SpaceMiners says:

    I can already tell that it’s going to be another administration nightmare with this challenge. there is no reason whatsoever for the rules to be withheld until the team agreement is available. they are two completely different documents. most of the teams requesting the rules will most likely never see the TA as they will drop out. only the few teams that have sponsorship to afford the $3000 entry fee [as well as $10,000 - $100,000 for hardware, software, transportation, shipping, insurance, etc] will eventually read and sign the TA days before the deadline.

    so, will you please listen to all of the teams requests and post the rules already. at this time nobody even cares about the TA. RULES, RULES, RULES! take into consideration that the administration is already off to a bad start. posting the rules ASAP is the only way to get back in good standing with all potential teams.

    • avatar Pablo says:

      As you clearly identified, the challenge is rather involved and without planning it is unlikely that many teams will succeed.
      With the rules in place, teams can start picking out hardware and jump into sponsorship and planning….without the rules, most team are still debating about entering the challenge and losing valuable time.

      Could you please post the rules at your earliest convenience?

      The TA can come later as the teams decide whether or not to even enter the challenge.

    • avatar DC says:

      SpaceMiners – Don’t be too harsh. You of all people should know and understand the complexities of any of the Centennial Challenges. The powers that be simply decided to correct any misconceptions of the past before moving forward – it’s just their timing that really stinks. And don’t forget – ANY time you deal with a government entity, you increase the complexity tenfold. They are certainly thorough – it’s their job.

      The rules and the team agreement are two parts of a whole – you cannot have one without the other; they support each other. Besides, you have the majority of the important information anyway; I am focusing on how to ACCURATELY identify an object in low level lighting conditions – enough to keep me busy until the final rules and team agreement are released. One thing I am not thrilled about is the possibility of making an attempt in the rain – does it really rain on the moon or on mars? I don’t think so….

      You should choose a part of the challenge, work on perfecting it, and before you know it, the rules/team agreement will be posted. Might just help you win =P

  2. avatar SpaceMiners says:

    “To answer the age-old, “why can’t you post the final rules?”. It’s an order of operations issue. There is an order things must happen in and that currently prevents the final rules from being posted….”

    this excuse is not valid as the administration decides the order of operation. therefore, the administration can change the order to better serve the teams. tell us, what is the worse thing that could happen if you posted the rules?

    “I have a hard time, at this point, reposting a rules document that I know has significant changes. However, I have sent a copy of the rules to those who have requested it through email. If I didn’t, I apologize and you should just resend the request… It’s likely it just hit the spam folder and I didn’t catch it….”

    how hard is it to post the preliminary rules with a big black bold title that says, “PRELIMINARY RULES”. everyone has requested a copy. it would be much easier to post the preliminary rules. once the TA is ready, post the FINAL RULES and the TA together, then remove the preliminary rules.

    if not, then please email the rules to my address. thank you.

  3. avatar Terra Engineering says:

    It is my observation that many people fixate on missing information and not use what they have. We are working full speed on our entry and will not need the rules for at least two months. Consider this:

    Do you have a robot or test platform?
    Can it find this?
    http://www.amazon.com/Penn-Pink-Extra-Tennis-Balls/dp/B000U8SWNY

    Can it pick it up?

    Can it find this?
    http://www.amazon.com/Soft-Shot-Hockey-Puck-Set/dp/B00017IBT4

    Can it pick it up?

    Can it find this?
    http://www.thecatconnection.com/cat/Splatter-Ball.html

    Can it pick it up?

    You can add the cube and yellow rock to the list if you want.

    I have taken several gigabytes of video of these object on different backgrounds (grass, cement, blacktop, gravel, dirt) in different light and I am running a number of processing algorithms on the video. No existing algorithms work in all situations. Just solving the ID problem will have you busy until long after the final rules come out.

    • avatar DC says:

      I agree – there is PLENTY to while waiting for the release.

      Besides, WPI is not making “administrative excuses” – WPI is simply caught in the middle AND taking all the heat. NASA has their fingers all over this (all) challenge(s) – Has anyone ever read the RFP?

    • avatar SpaceMiners says:

      as a previous participant in a few centennial challenges [nightmares], the spaceminers feel it’s best to examine the rules and team agreement first. we may not enter until the 2nd year. this will give WPI plenty of time to work out most of the problems.

      i doubt we will find hockey pucks and bouncing balls on the moon. try picking out a certian type of rock from a pile of various types of rocks and sand. how will your robot ‘decide’ [out of all the rocks in the pile] which is the most unique, interesting, most valuable one? how and where will the gripper attach itself to the rock for extraction? what other extraction techniques will it resort to once it ‘realizes’ that the rock will not budge? this challenge is much more involved than just object recognition and automated digging. good luck!

      • avatar Jim Rothrock says:

        The samples that Terra Engineering listed were specified in the draft rules. Unless the final rules differ significantly, the only rock that the robot needs to find will be painted yellow.

  4. avatar James Hughes says:

    I would like to receive an email of the preliminary rules also.
    Thank you.

  5. Thanks for the update, Colleen!

    Snafus do happen to all of us.

    Personally, I have to agree about the dubious value of tennis balls or hockey pucks. The fundamental problem is that these have a known geometry that trivializes the difficulty of the grasping problem. For a real space mission, when a scientific instrument spots something interesting, it will probably know nothing about the 3D geometry of the rock, so a real solution is probably going to need to perform a scan (structured light, stereo, Kinect, ???) to identify viable grasp locations.

    Applying lessons leared from the DARPA Grand Challenge, understand the rules, keep it as simple as possible, and begin extensive testing ASAP.

  6. avatar Terra Engineering says:

    I am glad that they compromised between reality and convenience. Imagine if the rules stated that you had to autonomously explore an area and pick up “interesting” looking things. At the end, judges would decide which things were the most interesting and award based on that. There would be some very disappointed people.
    The objects that they did pick have very unique signatures that stress both the recognition and articulation. As an example, the wooden cube is impossible to recognize in brown grass. Edge detection is swamped and the colors are too close. Solving that issue along with all of the other challenges will be a major advancement in autonomous sample and return. I am already enjoying the heck out of working on it.

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