ASC log 7/8/12: The Thirteenth Day

Impulse getting ready for dynamic stability tests.

 

Second day of scrutineering! Today we got a lot of things checked off, and are close to passing. We fixed some mechanical issues, giving us a green in mechanical – we passed various tests such as figure 8, u-turn, lights, visibility, and rear-view camera. We had meat, cheese, and bread for lunch, which was a rather tasty departure from our typical PB&J. A lot of things went right today – we are slowly and steadily approaching success in scrutineering. One unfortunate thing about today was the noticeable lack of team Montreal – they usually work near us, but they were gone today. They had a lot of things to work on, with multiple red flags, so we suspect that they went away to fix things and come back. We had a sinking feeling that they might have given up and went home, and we prayed that was not the case because there are few enough teams here already. We don’t mind the competition. We want as many people here racing with us as possible – otherwise, what’s the fun in it?

Later in the day, by 5 PM, we got to move on to dynamic scrutineering, having eliminated all of our red flags. They randomly selected our drivers to complete the brake and slalom tests. I watched and took pictures / video as our first driver, Jack, eventually passed slalom, but not without knocking a cone down on his first run. We did not pass the brake test, but we got pretty close so we think we could figure it out when we have more time tomorrow. Tomorrow is devoted 100% to dynamic testing for all the teams. In the meantime I hopped in and passed slalom on my second try, although I failed the brake test just like Jack. We couldn’t seem to pass it before dynamic testing closed at 7 PM – hopefully we can complete it tomorrow.

Once we passed the slalom test, we only had three more things to do before passing scrutineering – pass the horn test and the brake test and replace a fuse. The fuse is easy because we can just go out and buy one (although it’s taken a decent amount of searching), and we’ll have all day for the brake test. We’ve been having unexpected problems with the horn. It was a part of the car that went under everyone’s radar because we typically never use it. However, it is very important during FSGP because you are required to honk whenever you pass someone. We failed the horn test because our horn does not reach the required decibel rating from a certain distance away. We tried to solve it by moving the horn to a different location so that the sound would travel better, but that didn’t seem to work. Our plan tomorrow is to get a new horn.

Anyways, we packed up, went home, and no one was working on dinner so we ended up just getting some McDonald’s very late at night and going to bed. I was obstinate so I ate some random leftovers at home instead of McDonalds, but I kind of regretted it later when everyone was eating delicious McChickens. Oh well. My body is a temple blah blah. We’re eating pretty late, so time for bed now.

 

We have one more day to solve our issues before the racing starts. Cross our fingers.

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ASC log 7/7/12: The Twelfth Day

I needed to escape the vehicle in 10 seconds to pass regulation – I got out in 6.

 

Our first true day of scrutineering. This is when the real competition starts, not the race itself. We will be facing engineering challenges throughout all 3 days of scrutineering, and if we don’t fix what we need to in time, then we’re not going to race. It has begun.

A LOT of things happened today. We went through Body/Sizing, Driver, Electrical, Array, and BPS scrutineering today. Driver was fun for me, and the only stage that I was really involved in – as one of the three drivers of Impulse, I needed to get weighed in and assigned a ballast, and I needed to pass an egress test (pictured above). I also have to wear this annoying green wristband for the next few weeks to signify that I’m a driver. As for the rest of our scrutineering stages, the only one we passed completely was BPS – which is very good, because it’s hard to debug and it means that our car will not blow up. With BPS working and with everyone having passed the egress test, we have our safety systems down. It also helped that our Electrical Lead flew out just for scrutineering to help with this. For all of the other stages, we either didn’t finish completely or received red or yellow flags. Receiving red or yellow flags means that you can’t compete in FSGP or ASC. There are other flags which signify different things but I won’t go into detail. So, we have until the end of scrutineering (ends on Monday) to work out our red and yellow flags and turn them into green ones.

The weather has not been great today – there was cloud cover throughout the day, and at times it rained. The first time it rained, there was a mad rush for everyone to get tarps over their cars and other equipment. This was around the time when we were going to get lunch (1 PM), which we typically eat out of the back of a cooler in my trunk, but this was impossible in the rain. Everyone decided that they wanted to go back to the hotel and come back for our next scrutineering stage at 3.

This is when the day went in a drastically different direction for me. As we packed up our stuff into our cars and prepared to drive away, I observed the teams who set up on either side of us. On the right is University of Michigan – not only do they have a giant truck in which to easily store all of their things, they have a very large and sturdy BASE-X tent which probably cost thousands of dollars. They did not care at all about the rain because they have the money and the success to afford such a contraption. On the left is OSU. They drove their cars up to their trailer to form a triangle, and affixed a couple tarps over it to create their own make-shift rain fort. They worked on setting this up and protecting their car and tools while wearing shorts and t-shirts in the rain, and they all got completely soaked. In the meantime we packed up as quickly as possible and left for our hotel with our tail in between our legs. The Phoenix withstood the rain while the Bear fled. As we drove away and other teams receded into trailers and tents, team OSU stood in a circle and danced in the rain. At this point I knew that our team was not as good as it could be, and I wanted to do something about it. I kicked myself into high gear.

I sped back to the hotel, started setting up food, and had it ready for everyone when their cars arrived on my tail. As soon as everyone was done eating I directed clean up and led them out. It was apparent that others did not share my revelation, so I needed to transfer my sense of urgency to them. I needed to kick the rest of the team into high gear too if we were to be competitive.

We got back to the track to find that the rain had let up. We set up our canopy and had tarps at the ready should we need them. Fastforward through several scrutineering stages that I mentioned above, and it’s 7 PM. Scrutineering is over and the sun is going down – we get to stay at the track until 11 PM when it closes, giving us 4 hours of working time. The rest of the team wants to go back to the hotel to eat. This is not an option for me. I convince them to stay and continue working. We have to improve our array insulation, our battery box ventilation, and our belt strap mounting, and we need to eat. I assign a couple people to work on tasks in parallel, and suddenly I can see the team jumping into action as well. People go where they are needed and start getting things done. A duo is sent out to bring dinner to us, although in the meantime we are fed by University of Minnesota who has a ton of extra spaghetti. We work efficiently on 5 parallel tasks through 10 PM, and we’re packed up and gone by 10:45. This evening was insanely productive, and our team began to show its true colors. If we can work like this throughout ASC, we will be highly competitive. I need to make sure I can keep my energy up to match the energy of the team.

Another thing I wanted to talk about – the team collaboration here is fantastic. Everyone wants to help everyone else. When we didn’t have enough ballast, we got some donated from Principia. When we were hungry, University of Minnesota fed us. When we needed nylon peel ply, we asked around and got some. After they left for the night, OSU let us continue using their generator. In fact OSU actually passed all of scrutineering today, finishing even before University of Michigan. With 2 days left to go; they plan to use those days to help the rest of the teams in whatever way they can. This is such a great environment. A particularly endearing moment was when we saw the French-speaking Montreal team pull out a small bubble wand, and we matched them with one that we bought for 97 cents at Walmart. We took a short break to play with bubbles for a good 5 minutes while onlookers took pictures.

And with that, I go to bed at 2 AM to wake up at 6:30. Perhaps not the wisest of choices…

 

We have a lot of momentum from today. We don’t have any more time to waste!

ASC log 7/6/12: The Eleventh Day

Oregon State University’s top shell, complete with phoenix decal.

This is really cool. I’m starting to feel like I’m part of something big. We rolled in at 2:30 sharp for registration, to find that many teams were already here for their own scrutineering. I got a name tag, signed a waiver, and went to go explore.

University of Michigan, Western Michigan University, Iowa State University, Principia, University of Minnesota, and Oregan State University were all here already, as well as a couple other teams that arrived later. It is a very surreal experience to see other teams and their cars. All these people went through the same or similar experiences as us, faced the same challenges, had to meet the same regulations. However, all of the cars have their own style, character, and abilities. It’s almost as if each car is a different person, a collective personification of the team that made it.

My favorite car by far is OSU’s. Their car was destroyed about a year ago, when a battery pack exploded and the car burned to the ground. The driver escaped relatively unscathed, but only by seconds, and it was scary for a lot of teams, acting as a pretty severe wake-up call that this is a dangerous hobby. Anyways, if any of you know me you know how much time I’ve spent on this car, and the thought of Impulse being destroyed is heartbreaking. OSU’s car was obliterated, and then they remade it in less than a year for this race. The amount of time we spent making minor changes from WSC to today is the same amount of time it took them to build and test their entire car, and it’s going to be very competitive with ours. They even have a speaker system set up just for fun. Their steering wheel runs Windows. It’s not the best car here – that honor belongs to University of Michigan, the team that has dominated ASC for years, and placed third in WSC competing against the world’s best teams. However, I’m much more impressed by OSU’s ability to bounce back from such a devastating loss. They have appropriately renamed their car Phoenix, and it has a large phoenix decal on the top of the canopy. The car is painted red-orange and the team color is orange. I mean, how cool is that? I’ll be rooting for them all the way.

Anyways I could go on and on about the differences in design between the cars or about how I feel about each team, but for now I’ll just tell you this – I’m glad that I came on this journey. Getting to know all of these different cars and teams is an amazing experience. Hopefully I will have time to do that whilst also dealing with the hassles of scrutineering.

Tonight we went home and ate good old fashioned chili and rice, and went off to bed. We’re waking up at 5:30 tomorrow, since the Monticello Motor Club (where we go through scrutineering and FSGP) opens up to teams at 6 AM. We want to take full advantage of the day. Night y’all!

Much like OSU, we will carry on through the fire and the flames.

ASC log 7/5/12: The Tenth Day

The whole team gets underneath the top shell to investigate a wiring problem.

 

Oh boy. Today was not the best day.

We woke up early and headed out to the elementary school – this was to be the first and only day that we could do a test drive all the systems working before scrutineering. As you can probably expect, that did not happen. We ended up spending a good portion of the day trying to debug some miscellaneous electrical problems, such as a portion of our solar array not drawing power, and one of the rear brake lights flashing on and off.

Before we knew it, it was already getting late in the day. A couple of us went to go pick up a 10th member who just arrived by train, who was bringing a multimeter which would allow us to debug the issues with the solar array. In trying to prepare for his arrival, we rushed to produce a set-up in which the array could be monitored with the multimeter, and in our rush we accidentally broke a key connector. We spent the rest of the day trying to deal with that + fix the array + fix the brake lights, and somehow we even forgot to order a key part in replacing the connector so we will not get that until Saturday at the earliest. Saturday is the day when we get our electrical system tested in scrutineering. Yeah…

On the bright side, we did get the array working. However it’s hard to look on the bright side when we never even got to do a test drive – the first day of ASC will be the first day that Impulse drives on public roads in its current state.

Another cool thing that happened is a professional racecar driver drove by our car in the elementary school parking lot and came to check us out. Apparently he’s driven for something like 13 years and gets millions of dollars of sponsorship. He talked to us about our car for a bit before leaving, but not without giving us his card first. So that was kind of cool.

Brian and I went out to get supplies and food, and then we came back to the hotel and I cooked fried rice for everyone. It is difficult to cook for 10 adult males on a single propane stove, with one pot and one pan and zero cutting boards, sharp knives, or scooping implements. I also learned that people want a lot more meat than I was willing to buy / cook. I thought a whole pack of bacon would be good enough, but I don’t think it was. Lesson learned for next time I suppose.

Scrutineering starts tomorrow. Scrutineering is basically the process by which professional engineers review the solar cars to determine whether they are fit to rayce (rayce = solar car race).  There are 7 different stages that each team must undergo:

 

Body/sizing:

Make sure that the car’s size, weight, etc. meet regulation, and will involve a bunch of measurements and calculations.

 

Driver:

Weigh the driver, determine ballast, test egress (make sure the driver can leave the vehicle quickly in an emergency situation), etc.

 

Electrical:

Brake lights, turn signals, rear view camera, horn, forward and reverse,  insulation of wires, bomb switch (shuts the car off immediately),  etc. must all work, and some other stuff.

 

BPS:

Battery Protection System is the full term. Basically this is a system that monitors the batteries and prevents them from blowing up. This has its own section because it is very important. The batteries are easily the most dangerous part of the car, since if they go boom, it’s over.

 

Mechanical:

Suspension, wheels, roll cage, steering, parking brake, pedals, etc al mustl fit regulations.

 

Array:

Our array must be wired correctly and actually do things, and must fit within the required area.

 

Dynamic:

Here we test the functionality of the car, so the drivers need to do things like a slalom test, figure-8 test, and braking test.

 

Each stage takes an hour, and each of the teams need to go through all of the stages, so they have a schedule with different blocks that they have organized us into. For instance, Saturday we have Electrical at 11 and Driver at 4. Tomorrow (Friday), even though it’s the first day of scrutineering, we don’t actually have anything scheduled. All of our tests are on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. So the real challenge begins Saturday. However, tomorrow is very exciting, well at least it is for me, because for the first time I get to meet other teams and see other solar cars besides our own. I will be talking to a lot of people and taking a lot of pictures.

As expected, we do not meet all regulations right now, but we’re very close – we’re going to have to hack some things together last minute, but I think we can get it done. This is the biggest test for us, because if we don’t pass scrutineering, then our trip was for naught. I would rather rayce and do terribly than not rayce at all. So I really hope that we pass scrutineering, if nothing else.

Alright, that’s it for me. Tomorrow we’re registering at 2:30 PM, and that’s when the fun begins.

 

It’s Thursday, and Scrutineering will last throughout the weekend. I guess that means you could say that we’re working for the weekend?

ASC log 7/4/12: Independence Day!

Reinforcement Steven joins us in Monticello, to help cook taco meat apparently.

 

Today was a massive fail for scout car. I started out this morning waking up very late due to last night’s shenanigans in New York City. That is ok, since everyone else woke up late too. However, pretty soon I got sent on a mission to pick up other members that flew in to join our crew. I picked up our first reinforcement without a hitch – unfortunately, when picking the other one up from New York City, I missed an exit and promptly lost data reception on my phone, rendering me completely helpless. I called friends back in Monticello to help guide me back, which did work eventually, but I lost an hour of time in the process, plus however much gas that entails. Alas.

We spent the day debugging the car again, and unfortunately never got to drive it around. As with last time, we had a few people come up wanting to look at the car, which is always nice. We even made a New York state trooper friend, who brought his wife and kids today since he’s off of work.

My scout buddy Pol and I went back to our Super 8 early since we were just waiting around for electrical system debugging to occur, with the goal of cooking food in advance. Unfortunately, I had not only lost my room key, but also we realized that we left all of the cooking equipment behind. Fail. We didn’t want to drive all the way back to our testing ground, so instead we derped around for an hour, and then went and visited the Monticello Motor Club, which is where we will be racing our car in the Formula Sun Grand Prix (solar car track race before ASC) in a few days. The entire thing was fenced off, and you needed a passcode to get past the gates. You couldn’t even hardly see over the fences, since there were lots of bushes obscuring view of the track, and hills and such in the way. Oh well, we’ll get to see it soon enough.

We returned back to the Super 8 to discover that I actually did have the key card – it was under my car seat. We began setting up foodstuffs – tonight was taco night – and ate in the dark while listening to fireworks pop off in the distance. I also took some time to myself to watch a thunderstorm that was happening a few miles away. Every stroke of lightning would cause light to trace the contours of the clouds, which was really cool to watch. All in all it was a good night, even though we ate late. More people = more fun, and the food was very good.

Here’s to hoping that I actually get to drive the car tomorrow, though. I’m itching to get Impulse back on the road. There’s a lot of testing that still has yet to be completed.

 

Also, 4th of July, woohoo! Freedom and such. Too bad we weren’t in a good location to go see fireworks from.

ASC log 7/3/12: The Eighth Day

TIMES SQUARE!

 

Eighth is a very weird word. I guess I don’t have to type it out very much, since I only realized how weird it is just now. Ghth is just a weird sequence of letters. The more I stare at the word, the less sense it makes. Oh well.

Anyways, back to today. I rolled out of bed half an hour late, and it made me realize that I actually prefer sleeping on the ground to sleeping in a bed. It’s a lot easier for me to get up in the morning. Beds are just too comfy. Maybe when I get home I’ll throw out my bed. Probably not. But maybe….

We headed out early to start our testing. We picked one of the roads that my buddy and I scouted out yesterday, and drove along it until we found a nice big parking lot to set up in. A big parking lot-esque area is necessary in order to take Impulse out of the trailer and do work on it before heading out on the road. This was the first time we’d be unpacking Impulse since we embarked on the road trip, and there was no telling what state it would be in now. A lot of problems we’ve encountered in the past have been due to vibration, so being in a big trailer can’t have been great for Impulse. Anyways, we found an empty elementary school parking lot and started setting up.

Much to our surprise, Impulse turned on and appeared to work just fine! I took it on a few laps around the parking lot and showed it off to some construction workers doing landscaping. There were some code errors which caused the controls to be screwed up, but that only meant that new code needed to be uploaded onto the car.

It seemed like we would be able to take it onto the road soon, but unfortunately in trying to fix a minor issue with the motor, we accidentally blew a fuse that would prevent the motor from working. A very small, very specific fuse that we didn’t have on us and that none of our teammates back home could find. We tried for an overnight rush order, but unfortunately nobody delivers on 4th of July, which is tomorrow. So we won’t be able to drive the car until July 5th at the earliest, which is the day before scrutineering. Uh oh…

We worked on Impulse as much as we could until there was nothing left to do but drive, and at that point we packed up the car in the trailer and returned home.

Up until this point, we had planned on treating the 4th as a day of respite, and going on a day trip to New York City. It became apparent that we were running out of time, and we could not afford to lose a day to such shenanigans. However, this would be the last chance that we would get to do any traveling before scrutineering starts. So, we made a group decision, around 7 PM, to go to New York City tonight.

The trip was very exciting. It took about 1.5 hours to get there, all 7 of us packed into one minivan rather than take the whole caravan there. As we approached New York City, we could feel the tension in the air rise. The amount of fucks that drivers on the road gave began to approach zero. We had to go very fast and swerve around some cars in order to survive. The roads were narrow, the speeds were fast, lights and crosswalks were seen as general guidelines, and multiple people were stopped in the middle of the road for seemingly no reason.

After navigating the city streets (keep in mind this was on the outskirts of Manhattan), we found a cozy parking garage to keep our minivan safe in. Then we passed through Central Park and took a subway into the middle of Manhattan.

At 9:30 PM, the city was abuzz. We walked into Times Square, which was one of the most mind blowing places I’ve ever been. There were so many lights and screens and people, it was hard to keep track of where I was. It was a stimulus overload. We took some pictures and then tried to find someplace to eat.

We found a random pizzeria which looked pretty good, but walked in to find that it was very crowded and had a few people waiting to get in, which was somehow not surprising given the number of people who were on the streets at the time. However, when we asked for a table to seat 7, we were led immediately to the heart of the restaurant. From the outside, it was just a little doorway from the outside, but it was like the TARDIS – much larger inside. It expanded into a circular room, with 3 different tiers on which to dine. There were also multiple chefs and ovens located throughout the restaurant. The entire place seemed to be full, except for one 8-person table right in the center of the circle. Surely, this was fate.

We ordered 2 large pitchers of Ginger Ale and Root Beer (because we are too young for actual ale and beer L ) and 3 large pizzas. The food was delicious and not very expensive, and at the end I think we wish we ordered 4 pizzas. We departed around 11, satisfied with our meal and our nighttime adventure. We took the subway back up to the parking garage (the subway was crowded even at 11:30, away from the center of the city), and left to go home. Most people slept on the way, since we are all used to sleeping around 11 PM.

We got home safely by 1:30, and headed to bed. Luckily we didn’t have to wake up too early the next morning. New York City was quite the adventure, and we were only there for a couple of hours. I can’t wait to go back one day when I have more time to enjoy myself. It sure is a stressful place to drive in, but I don’t think I would mind living there for a bit, provided I didn’t have a car, and I stayed away from the sketchy areas. I got a very strong feeling of being alive while I was there. Everything was always moving and always active. Perhaps I won’t appreciate that later in my life, but it was an interesting departure from what I’m used to, especially considering I spent the last week  traveling between consecutive middles of nowhere.

 

Here’s what I was thinking while driving to New York at 8 PM.

ASC log 7/2/12: The Seventh Day

We pulled over to take pictures during our scouting trip.

 

It was nice waking up in a hotel – perhaps TOO nice. We were actually all very tired, and I think it was because we didn’t get our usual rude awakening in the morning. We sat around and talked strategy / planned out our next few days in Monticello, New York in the days leading up to scrutineering, Formula Sun Grand Prix (qualifying track race before ASC), and then ASC on the 14th of July.

After talking until 12:30, we decided it was time to actually do something. We ate some lunch, unpacked a bit, and then I headed out with a partner to scout out potential flat, straight, wide testing roads to test Impulse on before the race. We need to test a bit for the next few days to work out any kinks we might have.

The drive was really beautiful – the scenery in New York, or at least the area around Middletown, is amazingly nice. Lush, green, beautiful as always. There are a lot of abandoned buildings and places where nature has taken over, which is also cool to look at. Honestly it would probably be a shit place to live, but damn is it pretty. Also it’s a shitty testing bed for a solar car. Lots of shade from trees, windy roads, hills, single-lane narrow roads everywhere (no passing), small or non-existent shoulders, the list goes on.  After driving around for 3 and a half hours scouting for testing grounds, we only found a few miles worth of useable road. It will have to do. Exhausted, we returned home to make some pasta and play with some bubbles.

We got our schedules set for the next couple days, we established goals, and we ate cookies. Now it is time for bed, since we are waking up bright and early tomorrow to drive Impulse around the streets of New York.

 

Even if it’s in Impulse, I think I would rather like driving around New York again.