Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Congradulations to AA and good luck to Masten.

AA flew the 180 last week, and Masten is going to attempt the 90 second flight tomorrow.

I think that the 180 second event will be a stretch for both Masten and Unreasonable.
The 90 second event may come down to who has the best GPS equipment.

Toward that end I've recently purchased a pair of Trimble BD960 L1-L2 Glossnass RTK Rover and Base GPS units with all the accuracy enhancing options. I also got what I consider to be a very favorable ruling on from the judges on what can be counted as payload weight.

I've been flying with a very light L1 GPS from Crescent, its a nice GPS, and flies well,but as a L1 GPS its just not accurate enoough if the prize will be won or lost on GPS accuracy.

So I asked the judges the following question:
If a camera is carried and used to enhance landing accuracy, can it be counted as payload?
(The history here is yes it can be payload)
Since a GPS position reporting is also part of the required payload can I carry a 2nd really accurate GPS report its position for the payload requirements and manually use the information to correct my posiition, just like a camera. I expected them to rule that cameras used for landing accuracy could not be counted as payload, instead The answer I got back kind of suprised me, yes the 2nd GPS can be payload as long as it is not required for flight, and it does not matter how the data is communicated to the vehicle. So it can even be automatic. you might think that this is a lot of fuss over a few ounces of electronics, but to get really really accurate GPS you need a good survey grade choke ring antenna, a good one can weigh as much as 12 pounds or more.
Now I can count that as payload!!!!! This should give me accuracy in the 2cm range, if only I could control the vehicle that tightly. I've started working on that with the helicopter a so far I'm consistently better than what armadillo reported for accuracy on their flights. how much better I won't reveal until the end of October.(The Helicopter can't carry the weight of my really good antenna, so I'm using a lesser antenna hence the vehicle should be at least as good.)

A sobering though is that it would be possible to accomplish both the 90 and 180 second tasks and still walk away from the competition empty handed. If Masten,Unreasonable both accomplish their goals, its very likely that one of the three teams will get nothing.
For example:
Masten, Unreasonable and Armadillo all do the 180.
Masten and unreasonable are more accurate, Armadillo gets nothing. That is clearly the least likely scenario, but anything is possible.

Two years ago there was one team attempting and no winners.
This year its a real possibility that all the prizes will be won with more successes than winners.

Also today was the last possible day to register for the event, so we should also hear from Xprize in the next few days to learn if there are any surprise teams registering at the last minute.


David said...

Very interesting post - Thank you very much. I assume your questions and answer are made public among the other competitors as this information could have to be considered competition confidential as you have indicated it can provide a real edge. Naturally you have to have a craft that can fly the profile and have the control necessary at such a small relative scale.

If I was Armadillo I would be thinking that Masten or Unreasonable (or both) will get the 2nd first level prize this year which is a non-issue for them. I would also be thinking that its quite possible that neither will be able to fly the second level profile (though I really hope you Paul are able to do it). I imagine they are feeling comfortable that they will get the maximum prize money on offer. It might be different if either of you in test show successful full flight.

They will always have the claim to being first and have the benefits of the company profile enhancement benefits that this has provided. It would be interesting if both you and Masten did beat them on accuracy and what the outcome and private discussions/complaints would be then. Glad you have approval for your choices.

As usual I wish you the best.

Paul Breed said...

The offical rules Q and A are here:


David said...

If I read that document correctly, you could have little electric motors built into the base of the landing gear that on landing the craft moves itself to the most precise landing spot. Easy to do with only two dimensions and the accurate GPS you will have. Downside is the added complexity, added weight and the load on the motors.

Shanuson said...

well you dont need these wheels and motors to fly, so they will be payload :D

heroineworshipper said...

They should have made maximum total flight time & not accuracy a deciding factor.

Paul Breed said...

My first choice would be everyone who does the task shares equally.
My second choice was max flight time.

Accuracy is my last choice tiebreaker.

David said...

I am with Paul on this one. The three of you could choose to share the cash in good faith. I guess when it come to money its hard to get all to agree. Especially if they think they will be missing out on some amount otherwise.

I would really like to see NASA do a phase 3 (and maybe extend the part two). This would allow other players to also (further) improve their tech.

Anonymous said...

in most races the first one to the finish line wins.

Anonymous said...

I'm against the max-time tiebreaker. Cash-starved teams would likely not only not get the prize, but be crippled by the vehicle loss if they pushed their limits to get every last second. That's not what the Centennial Prizes are designed to do.

I think a shared prize, plus a "most-accurate" bonus would be best. Something like 800K to share + 200K for most accurate. You have to reward completion, as well as provide a non-binding incentive to improve performance beyond specifications.

Anonymous said...

First one across the finish line within the specified parameters should win. The problem with a shared prize is that it waters down the incentive to win.

Paul Breed said...

The problem with first to win is that as soon as there is a perceived front runner everyone else stops working on the prize. The origional X prize is a perfect example of this.

Anonymous said...

Also, this is not a race. It is a competition, a different thing altogether. Regarding "perceived front-runner b.s.", did Calvin Borrel stop just because he was in last place? No, he kept going and Mine That Bird won.

noel.wade said...

To the last commenter: I believe Paul's comment about the "percieved front runner" was more about the winner-take-all and no-tie-breakers format; not "first to finish". No one's going to continue to invest time and money if the probable pay-off is 0. But plenty of people will still invest some time and some money for a shot at a portion of the total purse; or if they have a chance of out-performing someone else.

And if "watering down" was such a concern, how come Masten and Unreasonable (and a couple of others) continue working for the 2nd place prize in Level 1? :-)

Remember: The prizes themselves are not the end-all and be-all for these groups (and they are not designed to be). The prizes are supposed to be incentives, which encourage participation, competition, calculated risk, new solutions, and new business. The intent is for some of the competitors to go on to have business success and for their new solutions and technologies to eventually be sold or licensed for government and/or commercial use. The prizes just act as a jump-start and a way for the "cream of the crop" to pay for their initial R&D/start-up costs.


Anonymous said...

I don't think anything has been watered down yet. There were 4 prizes, and whomever wins any of them gets the whole amount of that prize. I think the comment about watered down applied to taking one of the 4 prizes and splitting it up.

Anonymous said...

it is entirely too reasonable to stop competing because someone else might win.