How I Spent $1000

Not $1000 of my own money of course – I wouldn’t make it through the school year, in terms of spending money. I ordered a new PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) camera for the robots. Not just any camera: a low-light version of the cameras we already use, with an infrared illuminator and a drop-in infrared filter for total darkness.

Fritz was having a bunch of trouble enabling all of the serial ports on the newly resurrected Frodo of the Nine Fing… uh… Sixteen Sonars. Yeah. At any rate, I’m waiting for Bruce to finish up the RLE compression/decompression code for SVM (Swarthmore Vision Module). He’s also rewriting the image IPC messages so that there’s a single message with some metadata that determines the size of the uncompressed image.

The compression should reduce our video latency, by reducing the total amount of time it takes to transmit a single image over the network. At the same time, we’re upgrading the robots from 802.11 (no bloody a, b, OR g [1]) to 802.11b wireless bridges, which increases our potential bandwidth. We’re also going to invest in a more powerful wireless base station, probably 100 mW (most of the consumer base stations are only 30 mW at most), to cut through the interference in the test arena, and blow away any other wireless networks that might be in the competition area. These were two problems that we had last year in Acapulco.

The point of that digression is that I can’t do a lot more code writing until the new image code is tested and ready, which won’t be until tomorrow. This means that today I had a lot of free time, but I wanted to be generally productive with the robots.

Since Fritz was having problems with the serial connection on Frodo’s new motherboard, and one of the things we use the serial for is controlling the PTZ camera, I decided to find out if there were any USB PTZ cameras. There aren’t as far as I can tell; there are some cameras that are controlled over the network, but they’re a lot bulkier because they have a framegrabber and a network interface in the camera base.

At any rate, over the course of this search, I came across the aforementioned low light camera. It has an identical casing and mount to our current cameras (a Canon VC-C50i, as opposed to our older VC-C4), but it has a higher res CCD, it’s more sensitive, and it has the IR illuminator and filter. Hopefully it’ll be worth the money; at the very least, it will help us out in the dark areas of the USR test course, and it may help us when they use fog as sensor mediation.

Hmm… this post didn’t make a lot of sense. I’m still a wee bit tipsy from our Iron Hill birthday celebration for Fritz, so that’s probably why I’m rambling.

[1] Bonus points if you get the reference

Nurd Up!