Real racing in a real world

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Do you ever played in arcades? Do you ever played virtual racing car games? Do you ever played with remote-controlled cars? Do you like tanks? Now mix all that into a single experience... that's FULLMETAL RACER!

In a simplistic way, FULLMETAL RACER is remotely driving real cars on a real track (First-Person View).

In a more descriptive way, FULLMETAL RACER consists of three main elements: vehicles, stations and racing track.
The vehicles are equipped with video cameras, telemetry and actuators to control them. These are also equipped with "weapons" and "armor". These act and are actuated based upon sensors and actuators innocuous to material elements (no real weapons and armor, just virtual).

The stations have driving controls to drive and control the vehicle (steering wheel, pedals and buttons) as well as screens that show the video feed in real-time from the vehicle's camera and telemetric information collected from it. Like a virtual racing game, the pilot/player, besides their own telemetry, also has access to some telemetric elements of other pilots/players racing along and information from the game itself (vehicle positions, timings, etc.).

The track is completely modular and can be reconfigured according to any size (within the limit of the construction elements).
Like some existing virtual racing games, the pilot/player can catch extras that can be found during the race (upgrades, downgrades). Some examples are weapons selection and activation or modifying the armor.

All pilots/players are network connected, not only because that is a game requirement for the system to work, but also to share rankings and statistics like in a real life game.

  • Lisbon Mini Maker Faire

    Frederico Sobreira08/20/2014 at 01:58 0 comments

    Lisbon Mini Maker Faire

    Wonderful news!

    FULLMETAL RACER has been selected to be present at Lisbon Mini Maker Faire.

    If you can, visit us there!

    Hope to see you soon! ^_^

  • [ #04 ] Racing Track Design

    Frederico Sobreira08/14/2014 at 23:24 0 comments

    Since the moment that this project began to take shape, it was decided that the racing track would've to be highly modular, robust, lightweight and simple to assemble and disassemble.

    Possible configurations to assemble it are ruled by this diagram:

    The following configurations are achieved using the previous diagram:

    One of those possible configurations was chosen to build up a track with the real dimensions:

    This is a video showing the camera perspective from the vehicle point of view (POV). It also served as a proof of concept:

    Next, several iterations of track segments were developed in order to achieve a universal design that enable the construction of any of the combinations:

    The first prototype segment enabled the concept proofing. Materials, dimensions, lighting and electrical connections have been thoroughly checked in order to minimize possible design errors:

    This is another video showing the camera perspective from the vehicle POV. This test also provided illumination information to see shadows and blind spots:

    Stay tuned!

  • [ #03 ] Vehicle Design

    Frederico Sobreira08/14/2014 at 23:24 0 comments

    The initial requirements for the vehicle that will be used into the track were:

    • Small (scale 1:24 or lower).
    • Proportional power and steering.
    • Ability to have up to four vehicles simultaneously on track
    • Inexpensive
    • Easy to buy

    The choice was the Wltoys L939:

    The choice meets all the requirements. This car is controlled by a 2.4GHz radio command which is paired to the handled car. This means that 4 cars may be used simultaneously without any problem.

    In terms of speed, it is very fast (15km/h), but has 5 selectable speeds allowing it to be usable in the project.

    Then, load tests were made. It was expected that the car would have to endure about some additional 200g to its normal weight:

    • Camera
    • Transmitter
    • Battery

    And this was where the problems started with this car. After placing the weights in the structure of the car, it began to move slowly, the engine was extremely hot... well, it wasn’t usable.

    It was time to look for a new better alternative.

    In parallel to this project, there is another related to robotics which uses a mobile robotic platform from Polulu, the Zumo:

    Instead of the motors that typically come with this robot (75: 1 High Power - 400 rpm), faster ones were chosen (50: 1 High Power - 625 rpm). These allow a speed of about 130 cm/sec (1.35 m/s or 4.86 km/h).

    The control is in charge of an Arduino Uno, which is in charge of all functions of the vehicle.

    So, it was time to give another direction to the project concept. What initially started as a game of cars, is now a tank game!

    And to do justice to this change, it takes a proper makeover. One of our favorite arcade games of the time, was this one, Metal Slug!

    For those less familiar with this game – Metal Slug takes place in 2028. General Morden is the big bad guy and threatens world peace after stealing a series of prototypes of next generation tanks – the Super Vehicle-001, or Metal Slugs. The role of our brave heroes (Marco Rossi, Tarma Roving, Eri Kasamoto and Fio Germi, from the "Peregrine Falcon Strike Force") is to prevent the General to achieve his evil plan that includes the use of Metal Slugs to conquer the world.

    ---------- Metal Slug (1996) ----------

    Using an ancient method of rapid prototyping, the first model came to life:

    After testing the tank in the track, it was verified that the front blade caused problems on the side of the track. The blade decreased the angle of attack of the vehicle’s front so that it could make it impossible to move the sides of the track. Another sessions of prototyping resulted in further versions:

    As soon as the previous problems were solved, it was time to apply some textures to see the final aspect of the tank prototype (named R2 57-SS):

    Hope you liked it!

    Stay tuned!

  • [ #02 ] System Design

    Frederico Sobreira08/14/2014 at 23:23 0 comments

    The first system concept was based on this diagram:

    This concept relies on a RC car fitted with a smartphone to provide video feedback back to the control station. An Arduino was also added to translate commands from the smartphone to control the car (not steering) and to acquire sensor data from it back to the smartphone.

    The control station is a computer with a steering wheel. The computer is connected via another Arduino to the RC remote from the car. The computer sends steering commands to the RC remote via the Arduino.

    Besides the RC control (used to steering the car), the control station relies on a local Wi-Fi network to communicate with the smartphone (video feed, sensor data, controls, etc.).

    This system worked well. As long as the Wi-Fi network have a strong signal, the video feed was very good:

    But there is a problem that renders it unusable for this project: video lag:

    About 150 ms is the best that this system can do. At low speeds, this lag is manageable, but as soon the speed increases, the steering becomes harder. This isn't a communications' problem, is a smartphone's video camera problem (you can try shaking your hand in front of it and see the lag that is between your movement and what you see in the phone's screen).

    So, back to the drawing board and rethink the whole system layout.

    First-Person View (FPV), is very common in RC planes. But nowadays it seems that everybody have a multicopter with FPV (unfortunately, we don't...). This systems are very lightweight and somewhat affordable (at least, more or less the smarphone's price).

    The present system is this one:

    At present time, this configuration is untested, but we believe that the video lag is admissible.

    The video is provided by a 5.8 GHz RF link to minimize radio interference by other signals. The rest of the system relies on a 2.4 GHz link.

    The RC car has been replaced by a Zumo robotic platform providing full control of the vehicle (much better than fiddling with a RC car and remote). The Zumo has more than sufficient horsepower to carry all the electronic and mechanical systems needed.

  • [ #01 ] Concept Design

    Frederico Sobreira08/14/2014 at 23:22 0 comments

    The idea of remote controlling cars at distance is not particularly new. However our first contact with something like this happened when a series it passed on national television with some kids who remotely controlled their cars and helicopter through a screen (all of this while they caught the bad guys). We were then in the early 90s, the series was made in New Zealand and was called Hot Shotz.

    Around the same time, Nikko has selling many models of remote controlled cars that any kid wanted to have for Christmas. Anyway, was something we dreamed but we knew that it was just that, a dream.

    The years passed, we have grown older and forgot about those dreams ... until some time ago!

    The technology is at a point where, for a few euros you can mount a remote driving system through video (FPV). So we thought: "Why not?".

    Games like Wipeout, Carmageddon or the Mario Kart series, were games that marked our adolescence, providing us with many hours of fun.

    ---------- Wipeout (1995) ----------

    ---------- Carmageddon (1997) ----------

    ---------- Mario Kart (Wii, Originally released in 1992) ----------

    So we went into the materialization of what would be FULLMETAL RACER.

    Stay tuned!

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