Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Physical car control

We recently got a new Vicon motion capture system installed in our robot arena here at Essex. It's an amazing piece of equipment. Able to track hundreds of infrared reflectors at a 100 hz or more with millimetre precision, you can even use it to track the spinning blades of a micro-helicopter!

The video below is from our first experiments with tracking a real radio-controlled toy car with the Vicon system, and controlling it from a desktop computer via a hacked transmitter connected to the parallel port (as in earlier experiments using webcams).

Although the car above was controlled by a hard-coded algorithm (about 15 lines of code!) we think we can do significantly better through a learned, and possibly learning, controller. So right now we are working on an approach to automatically inferring models of the car dynamics, evolving controllers for these models, and using the controllers thus learned in simulation to control the real car. We (as usual I'm working with Simon, but right now also with Renzo, Richard and Hugo) have a couple of exciting ideas about this, which I might blog about as soon as we've convinced ourselves that they actually work. Stay tuned!