Two years of robots

A few things I learned in the Olin Intelligent Vehicles Laboratory


Design the Emergency Stop first.

There is no good answer to the question “What does the software E-Stop look like?” You will get asked anyway.


Blowing 30 amp fuses is not a good plan. Especially the night before demo day.

Dropping a wrench across the terminals of a deep-cycle battery is also a not a good plan.


Getting paid to run Autonomous Surface Vehicle field tests on a lake in summer is amazing. In late November, not so much.


Just because your teammate really wants you to catch her a duck doesn’t mean you have to. And, realistically, you probably can’t. Ducks tend to swim away from things with motors.


If you learn to make y cables, people will compliment you a lot. They will also ask you to fabricate cables for them. Work out your own exchange rate.

Make sure there is a fan next to the soldering workstation. Your lungs will thank you.


Boston is very cold in the winter. If you have to work in an unheated shipping container because your robot won’t fit through doors, you will begin to love insulated coveralls.

If you work in an unheated shipping container for long enough, the moisture from your breath will freeze to the ceiling. Should you manage to get the container’s temperature above freezing, this ice will then thaw and rain on you. If this happens, don’t panic. You are not experiencing hypothermia-induced hallucinations.


5 Watt LEDs are really bright.


Campus police does not like it when you run steering calibration tests in the parking lot. They will pull you over and ask you why you’ve been driving a groundskeeping vehicle in circles for an hour.

You can escape a lot of awkward interactions with security by talking enthusiastically about Dubins Curves.


Sometimes the project manager’s job is to get a full night of sleep before demo day, so that someone can talk to the project sponsors.


Always log your GPS data.


Take beautiful photos of all of your projects.


It doesn’t matter if you and your teammates are the only undergrads publishing at the conference. People will still stop you in the hallways and tell you how impressed they are that you got your algorithm working in the field (they’re all presenting simulations).


Orange flavored Metamucil is not soluble in water, and filling your test pool with it will not tell you anything about how well your imaging systems will work in oil. It will, however, create a safety orange goop that looks like it should give you superpowers and make your breath taste like citrus.

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