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xavior06
04-16-2003, 12:48 PM
notice as first progresses it is hoping students will use more autonomy, i.e. reflective strips last year, more reflective strips and complete autonomy for 15 seconds this year... maybe soon there will be no drivers.. wouldnt that be crazy!

Koko Ed
04-16-2003, 12:51 PM
Originally posted by xavior06
notice as first progresses it is hoping students will use more autonomy, i.e. reflective strips last year, more reflective strips and complete autonomy for 15 seconds this year... maybe soon there will be no drivers.. wouldnt that be crazy!

That would be absolutely disastrous.
Alot of teams had very poor autonomous modes or none at all. There would be no competition.

CAD-Demigod45
04-16-2003, 12:57 PM
I thought the autonomous mode made the competition more interesting. It showed how serious teams took programming. Anybody who didn't have one this year was one step behind. I dont know if it would be possible to have the entire match done autonomously, with all the trouble teams had with 15 seconds.

Aaron Lussier
04-16-2003, 01:01 PM
That sounds great and all, but just as the Software people were fighting for more stuff to do, With an entirely automou game, the Drivers, and co-pilots would start riots in the streets if they did not get to drive there robot at all, I'm sure that all drivers will agree with me. Whats the purpose of building a bot if you never get to drive the thing, even for fun. However I am not the driver for my team, but I pretty much asume that entire auto matches would not be the best thing in the world, maybe an extension on the 15 sec to like 20 or maybe even 30, But I dont think its ever gonna get over that.

xavior06
04-16-2003, 01:02 PM
im not saying like right away next year.. but it would be interresting to have more and more autonomy... it truely showed how well many teams planned out their strategy and its cool to see how the robots just go at it when its not the minds of the drivers thinking things out.

yea it would be disasterous if FIRST didnt think about the smaller teams that cant program the entire thing. Yet in a couple years its def. possible.

WakeZero
04-16-2003, 01:20 PM
There will never be a full autonomous FIRST robotics competition... just like there will never be an underwater game... or games that don't involve a human player :yikes:

FIRST would not be the same in either of these situations... besides, drivers make the game more interesting because robots can't create strategies on the fly. It is the same reason people like to play internet games rather than just play against the computer: its more challenging ;)

Chris Hibner
04-16-2003, 01:44 PM
Originally posted by WakeZero
There will never be a full autonomous FIRST robotics competition... just like there will never be an underwater game... or games that don't involve a human player :yikes:

Never say never. I heard some rumors that an all autonomous game might not be too far off in the future. We'll see.

Personally, I would love to see more autonomous play. Of course, I'm a controls engineer working at an electronics place, so more autonomy would benefit my team.

-Chris

Greg Young
04-16-2003, 02:14 PM
I would like to see more autonomous play, but not complete autonomous operation. Aside from the possibility of an insurrection by the drivers, the need for the driver and field strategist to adapt to the rapidly changing situation on the field is a fascinating aspect of the game. The importance of field strategy was a great feature of this year's game.

Designing a game that requires autonomous routines during the driver control time is a possibility. I haven't given this enough thought to make suggestions, but the task required would have to be simple and short enough not to interrupt the flow of the game.

Greg

Redhead Jokes
04-16-2003, 02:22 PM
Our Northrop Robotics Engineer says this is the best competition he's ever seen, far better than Battlebots, and also because autonomy is REAL robotics.

Jeff Waegelin
04-16-2003, 03:11 PM
My prediction: auto gets longer over the next few years, and becomes a more critical element, but human control will always be a part of FIRST. Feel free to harass me endlessly 5 years down the road, but I stand by this. There will ALWAYS be a human operated mode in FIRST.

dlavery
04-16-2003, 03:23 PM
Originally posted by WakeZero
There will never be a full autonomous FIRST robotics competition... just like there will never be an underwater game... or games that don't involve a human player

I just love it when people make absolute statements! It makes the game design process all that much more interesting.... ;)

For all those that say a fully autonomous game is neither possible nor interesting, you might want to take a very close look at RoboCup (http://www.robocup.com/), and see where they are headed.

-dave

Joel J
04-16-2003, 03:45 PM
Originally posted by xavior06
notice as first progresses it is hoping students will use more autonomy, i.e. reflective strips last year, more reflective strips and complete autonomy for 15 seconds this year... maybe soon there will be no drivers.. wouldnt that be crazy! Just. Say. No. :) <-- I say that as both a programmer and a driver.

Andy Grady
04-16-2003, 04:10 PM
Ok...I will admit that the Autonomous mode was more successful than I thought it would be. Though I still prefer the game without it. However, if FIRST were to ever go to full autonomous rounds, I'd join Battlebots the next day and never look back!

Congrats to all,
Andy Grady

WakeZero
04-16-2003, 04:17 PM
Originally posted by dlavery
I just love it when people make absolute statements! It makes the game design process all that much more interesting.... ;)
-dave

Hehe, well here is my reasoning for my absolute statements.

1) A full autonomous FIRST robotics competition will never happen:

I say this because as long as FIRST wants to make their event television friendly, they need the on-the-fly thinking that robots don't posses yet. They are going for the sports atmosphere, and you need human control to make that possible.

2) An underwater FIRST robotics competition will not happen:

Just try and make this happen with a Kit of Parts that costs $1000 or less. Water + Electronics = Not Good :yikes:

I could see FIRST branching off a separate competition for this and also aerial robotics... but not anytime soon. If this does happen, FIRST will no longer just be FIRST.

3) Human players will remain a part of the FIRST robotics competition

They just like them, and human players add an important dimension of Man and Machine working together to achieve something. It it just good PR :D

WakeZero
04-16-2003, 04:30 PM
Oh geez... right after I posted that last post I got the most wicked idea... I will probably be flamed to no end for this, as it is just too diabolical :ahh:

What if FIRST gave each team an option for each match whether or not they would run full autonomous, partly autonomous or no autonomous?

The benefit of full autonomous would be a multiplier of 3 for the alliance, a multiplier of 2 for partly autonomous, and no multiplier for no autonomous :yikes:

So if it was two on two still, if one robot in the alliance did full autonomous, the alliance would get 3 times their score while still having one robot able to be under human control.

<goes to find a hiding spot> :D

ebenhopwil
04-16-2003, 05:58 PM
Gulp! Complete autonomy? I hope not!

Jeff_Rice
04-16-2003, 06:30 PM
Wakezero! I already said that here:
http://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/showthread.php?postid=159135#post159135

Autonomous will never go away...

Autonomous is awesome.

ebenhopwil
04-16-2003, 06:33 PM
Of course. Autonomy is here to stay. But complete autonomy? As in the entire round? I hope that doesn't come anytime soon...

Cipher X
04-16-2003, 07:10 PM
I personally like the idea of a completely autonomous game. It would be very interesting to say the least. I am sure it would cause a lot of chaos at first but i think overall it might be a nice change. But the only problem is that to have a Successful completely autonomous game; more sophisticated sensors would be needed. But I for one would support it.

CipherX

ebenhopwil
04-16-2003, 07:37 PM
The problem with a completely autonomous game would be: how would the rookie teams possibly survive? In previous years, there's always been some way for any robot, as long as it drives, to score some points. You could push things around or get your bot into a certain zone. But with complete autonomy, that's really hard. Even veteran teams have trouble with getting autonomy to work every time. Think of what it'll be like for the rookies.

Jeff Waegelin
04-16-2003, 07:39 PM
Originally posted by WakeZero
Oh geez... right after I posted that last post I got the most wicked idea... I will probably be flamed to no end for this, as it is just too diabolical :ahh:

What if FIRST gave each team an option for each match whether or not they would run full autonomous, partly autonomous or no autonomous?

The benefit of full autonomous would be a multiplier of 3 for the alliance, a multiplier of 2 for partly autonomous, and no multiplier for no autonomous :yikes:

So if it was two on two still, if one robot in the alliance did full autonomous, the alliance would get 3 times their score while still having one robot able to be under human control.

<goes to find a hiding spot> :D

Ahhh....!! Visions of 2001 and the crazy multipliers.... why did you have to say that? Now Dave Lavery is going to read that, and if we get autonomy multipliers next year, I'm blaming you! Just kidding... it's an interesting idea, though I think it approaches the confusion and complexity of 2001 just a little too much.

Cipher X
04-16-2003, 08:10 PM
Originally posted by ebenhopwil
The problem with a completely autonomous game would be: how would the rookie teams possibly survive? In previous years, there's always been some way for any robot, as long as it drives, to score some points. You could push things around or get your bot into a certain zone. But with complete autonomy, that's really hard. Even veteran teams have trouble with getting autonomy to work every time. Think of what it'll be like for the rookies.

Well maybe you dont have to force everyone to be autonomous... but have somekind of bonus for having it completely (WakeZero's Idea wasnt that bad) autonomous. My thoughts are that the venture of robotics is limited if we keep it in the bounds of human control. I think the future of robotics lies in autonomy. It would be a pretty complicated process but i think it woudl be interesting to see autonomous robots in FIRST.

Cipher X

narenr
04-16-2003, 08:19 PM
Though I support autonomous mode all the way, full autonomy would be disastrous! I can just imagine the collisions and destruction taking place as robots all try to go to the same place. It would extremely entertaining and funny to watch, but I don't see it as practical. The games themselves don't seem to lend themselves to full autonomy. But autonomous mode is definitely cool.

George1902
04-16-2003, 08:35 PM
Originally posted by WakeZero
Oh geez... right after I posted that last post I got the most wicked idea... I will probably be flamed to no end for this, as it is just too diabolical :ahh:

What if FIRST gave each team an option for each match whether or not they would run full autonomous, partly autonomous or no autonomous?

The benefit of full autonomous would be a multiplier of 3 for the alliance, a multiplier of 2 for partly autonomous, and no multiplier for no autonomous :yikes:

So if it was two on two still, if one robot in the alliance did full autonomous, the alliance would get 3 times their score while still having one robot able to be under human control.

<goes to find a hiding spot> :D

this is one of the best game ideas i've heard in a long while... so cool!

you can have a button you push when you want autonomy to end. depending on how long you let it last, your multiplier gets higher....

sounds like so much fun!

PMGRACER
04-16-2003, 08:39 PM
Even though we had a fast auto mode this year, I would gladly dismiss it. Going completely autonomus would prove to be extremely difficult for most teams, including us. The "on the fly thinking" that drivers and coaches have make the game fun to watch and play. Right now, Innovation FIRST controllers aren't sophiosticated enough to run an effective auton game. I don't believe that it would be in the sports best interest to completely remove the human element. If and when they do that, is the day I quit and pour all my energy into Drag racing.:ahh: :cool:

Austin
04-16-2003, 08:43 PM
I really hope that their is never a total-autonomous game, for many reasons.
1. really hard to program, especially if you have robot contact,
etc.
2. even our programming team had a hard time this year w/ 15
sec...what would 2 min do to them??! it'd be ultra-stress
3. most rookie teams would not have near the programming
resources to complete this daunting task, let alone many
veteran teams
4. I'd be out of a job! lol :( ;)

Willum
04-16-2003, 08:50 PM
I think a more intricate field would go great with autonomous mode. Maybe something like a totally out of view area <side of the field> that poses a maze that would require a programmed motion. That would require some nice coding. Give a team 25 points for navigating to that point on the field. Make 2 different paths requiring 2 different auton sequences.

Just an idea... as a head programmer i found myself just coming up with random things to program... at one point i had 20 auton modes and 3 "anytime" functions.

Oh and if you were at nationals you saw only at most 10 teams used all 15 seconds of the autonomous. Many teams just chose to go for about 5 seconds to the stack.

Not2B
04-16-2003, 09:32 PM
Hey.....what about....

15 sec human control
10 sec robot control
15 sec human control
10 sec robot control
etc....

this would allow a rookie to drive for more than half the game, allow you to still control your robot and alter stratagy on the fly, and could allow for some interesting auto modes that wouldn't HAVE to rely on complex sensors - simple sensors we have today would work fine.

Dude - no one read this - it sounds too hard.

VoRtEx209
04-16-2003, 10:25 PM
Couple of rumors regarding autonomous mode...

I have heard suggestions that autonomous mode will be reinstated next year as the last 10 seconds of the match.

I have also heard that the autonomy period would last up to 30 seconds. :ahh: That would almost force the use of sensors for those teams who choose to employ autonomy, especially if the :30 was at the end of the match...

Joe Matt
04-16-2003, 10:27 PM
There will always be humans controlling the robot so it's a competition, and always a human player to add a human aspect to the competition.

Rickertsen2
04-16-2003, 10:45 PM
Hmmm auto at the end of matches. That would be interesting.

Joe Lambie
04-17-2003, 09:36 AM
Personally I would not like to see a complete auto mode match setup. Part of the fun of FIRST is the human element on the field. Ya technologically it would be an awesome challenge but robots dont show the emotion of a human. I mean would a robot be able to jump up and down and cry and be so joyus after winning a match on its own...most likely not. But to see the emotion and joy(or pain) of the humans on the field is what adds that special intangible element to the games each year. I was lucky enough to drive for two years out of the four I was in it. Without the humans driving at all things just would not be the same..it would be missing one of those "intangibles".

xavior06
04-17-2003, 09:54 AM
Originally posted by whooper94
Personally I would not like to see a complete auto mode match setup. Part of the fun of FIRST is the human element on the field. Ya technologically it would be an awesome challenge but robots dont show the emotion of a human. I mean would a robot be able to jump up and down and cry and be so joyus after winning a match on its own...most likely not. But to see the emotion and joy(or pain) of the humans on the field is what adds that special intangible element to the games each year. I was lucky enough to drive for two years out of the four I was in it. Without the humans driving at all things just would not be the same..it would be missing one of those "intangibles".

have you seen AI? :p
(im sure wildstang could work this out too *think StangAI*)
i think it will be a combo of both as it was this year. drivers shouldnt be eliminated and wont. just as human players werent necesary this year, they still ended up finding a way for them to add to teh game.

LBK Rules
04-17-2003, 09:55 AM
Originally posted by WakeZero
What if FIRST gave each team an option for each match whether or not they would run full autonomous, partly autonomous or no autonomous?

The benefit of full autonomous would be a multiplier of 3 for the alliance, a multiplier of 2 for partly autonomous, and no multiplier for no autonomous :yikes:

So if it was two on two still, if one robot in the alliance did full autonomous, the alliance would get 3 times their score while still having one robot able to be under human control.

Send that to DL or FIRST. I LOVE that idea. Mabe they should do that for 2005, and a skimmed down version for 2004.

As for general autonomy;
FLL: 2.5 Minutes of FULL autonomy
FIRST 2003: 0.25 Minutes of FULL autonomy (That's 10 times less then FLL)

I don't understand why you think this is the end of the world, if middle schoolers can do it, then high schoolers should be able to too.

WakeZero
04-17-2003, 10:56 AM
Originally posted by LBK Rules
Send that to DL or FIRST. I LOVE that idea. Mabe they should do that for 2005, and a skimmed down version for 2004.

As for general autonomy;
FLL: 2.5 Minutes of FULL autonomy
FIRST 2003: 0.25 Minutes of FULL autonomy (That's 10 times less then FLL)

I don't understand why you think this is the end of the world, if middle schoolers can do it, then high schoolers should be able to too.

Hehe, but when FLL goes isn't there only one 'robot' on the field at a time? With 4 robots, stuff happens :yikes:

Pin Man
04-21-2003, 08:37 PM
If there were no drivers I don't think it would be good at all... You still need drivers to keep it interesting... Plus many teams were horrible with auto mode and some didn't even have one... Personally I wouldn't like it...

Dan Richardson
04-21-2003, 10:40 PM
Full autonomous would scare me.. especially because i'm a driver.. if you recall at almost every regional for the first day atleast half the robots didn't have an autonmous mode

I kinda like the auto mode multiplier Idea

but I also would like to see it so that the game is more constructive than it was this year.. in years past you had to actually complete a task.. like get balls into a goal or something, or balance goals on a bridge

this year it was almost ( and I truely do mean almost ) who could push who around.. and knock over the stacks

just look at who won it all.. 111, a bot designed for pushing other bots around..

I hope its a lil more constructive next year

Dan Richardson
04-21-2003, 10:48 PM
Full autonomous would scare me.. especially because i'm a driver.. if you recall at almost every regional for the first day atleast half the robots didn't have an autonmous mode

I kinda like the auto mode multiplier Idea

but I also would like to see it so that the game is more constructive than it was this year.. in years past you had to actually complete a task.. like get balls into a goal or something, or balance goals on a bridge

this year it was almost ( and I truely do mean almost ) who could push who around.. and knock over the stacks

just look at who won it all.. 111, a bot designed for pushing other bots around..

I hope its a lil more constructive next year

Jason Morrella
04-24-2003, 02:10 AM
Based on my limited knowledge (keep any wisecracks to yourselves please :) ), it seems to me that ALL teams would be very wise to really work over the offseason to learn and improve their autonomous programming ability and use of sensors.

Consider this:
Dave Lavery has a degree in Computer Science, and did his graduate work in Comp Sci/Artificial Intelligence. He was the NASA Deputy Program Manager for Artificial Intelligence Research for six years and then spent 12 years running the NASA Autonomous Robotics Program. (turns out our resumes aren't as similar as I thought - ;) )
The very first year he is involved with the FIRST game design, autonomy appears as a critical addition to the game - added to the fact that Woodie and Dean continue to promote the use of sensors and programming A LOT. Anyone want to guess how big autonomy might be in next year's game? Anyone want to guess how valuable students who learn the sensors and programming are going to be to their teams next year?

And if that isn't some interesting info to help teams guess/anticipate some game aspects for 2004 - I've heard a rumor through the grapvine that "joysticks aren't expected to be in the kit of parts next year". Which I find kind of scary, but read into it what you will (basically, my thinking is refer back to the advice in paragraph one).

I hope everyone has found some much deserved rest and downtime,

Jason

AlbertW
04-24-2003, 03:26 AM
what? no flightsticks? how will we SURVIVE????

:ahh:

::runs and hides in a bin::

Jeff Waegelin
04-24-2003, 08:49 AM
I don't see that happening. Not next year, at least. Autonomous mode still needs time to develop for a fully-auto game to be viable. Think about it, given the lack of 100% reliable autonimous modes this year, would you want to watch a fully-auto game next year? There needs to be at least a few years of mixed auto/human games before FIRST should even consider a fully autonomous game, if they want any level of quality in the programming.

Tton
04-24-2003, 09:23 AM
I saw some posts earlier about making the hole game autonomous. I don't think it would work much mainly because one centimeter off in the program means distruction and robots woould hit each other a lot and also many teams did not even have an autonomous this year.
I think that if First wanted to do an autonomous that next year they should have the last 15 secounds be autonomous to make it so your drivers have to line it up...

Post your thoughts on the topic, Thank You!

-T-ton

Wetzel
04-24-2003, 09:46 AM
I heard from a reliable source (also a very evil man) that making the autonomous period in the MIDDLE of the match was an idea with merit and was being considered.


Wetzel
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
*back to the depths I go*

patrickrd
04-24-2003, 09:58 AM
I think a fully autonomous game would be great, however, I think at this time it is far too difficult for a high school competition, especially in a 6-week period. Here's why:

Unlike FLL, an autonomous FIRST game would likely have at least two robots competing against each other. The second one robot bumps into the other or disturbs the other in some way, both robots no longer have much chance of accomplishing their desired tasks... They have now both been disoriented with the field and have no easy way to reorient themself. Almost all robots this year in the 15-sec autonomous mode used this type of open-loop control... With preprogrammed paths to get on top of the ramp. This type of control would fail -- miserably -- very early on in a 2 minute autonomous game.

Now, the fairly obvious solution is to use sensors to keep oriented with the field (technical term: closed-loop control). This could be done with optical sensors, gyros, accelerometers, and maybe even GPS someday once it has good precision. Optical sensors would allow a robot to scan the perimiter of the field looking for something like a post with reflective tape. Once it finds it, it now needs to eather find another post, or use a second optical sensor from a different point on the robot to find the same post. Together, the robot can triangulate it's position on the field. I suspect that this process could be done in no less than a couple seconds even with the best implementations. Something like this or GPS is the only way I can think of right now for a robot to figure out where it is.

If that doesn't sound that bad, then now consider the robot turning after it has determined where it is. The robot now doesn't know which way it's facing, unless you use another sensor to detect how fast it turned. On comes the gyro. But in fact the gyro only tells you how fast you are turning. You'll need to integrate the readings from the gyro over time to get an approximated estimate of which way the robot is now facing. Now consider the robot accelerating. Now you don't know how far it is going and how fast. You'll need encoders on the motors (assuming your wheels don't lose traction at all) or accelerometers to estimate how far you've gone. These errors will compound over time, and probably every 10 seconds or so the robot will not have a very good idea where it actually is. So you'll need to recalibrate with the field very often, or even try to do it continuously if possible. Continuous calibration is very hard, because it will be difficult to locate the posts while the robot is in motion and calculate location, especially given the slow processors on board.

I have not yet mentioned programming strategy on board. How do you know where the other robots are? How do you know where any scoring objects such as balls are? You would either need a very simple game to avoid such questions, or you would need many more sensors and complex control algorithms.

Of course, you will need the processing power and storage space to be able to use all this information... which means giving the on-bot computers a major upgrade.

A suggestion: If there is enough interest and FIRST is to pursue this at some point in time, I think FIRST should provide the technology to tell each robot where it is located, what direction it is pointing, and the same information about all the other robots, and perhaps even about the scoring objects. This could be part of the playing field set up, and the information could be transmitted to the robot along in place of the human controller signals. Further, it might be a good idea to let the robots do their computing off the robot. In other words, have a laptop computer receiving feedback from robots and sending control commands to the robots. If these changes are made, I can see this working. If not, full autonomy is a long ways off for FIRST.

- Patrick

Dave Flowerday
04-24-2003, 10:40 AM
Originally posted by patrickrd
If that doesn't sound that bad, then now consider the robot turning after it has determined where it is. The robot now doesn't know which way it's facing, unless you use another sensor to detect how fast it turned. On comes the gyro. But in fact the gyro only tells you how fast you are turning. You'll need to integrate the readings from the gyro over time to get an approximated estimate of which way the robot is now facing. Now consider the robot accelerating. Now you don't know how far it is going and how fast. You'll need encoders on the motors (assuming your wheels don't lose traction at all) or accelerometers to estimate how far you've gone. These errors will compound over time, and probably every 10 seconds or so the robot will not have a very good idea where it actually is. So you'll need to recalibrate with the field very often, or even try to do it continuously if possible. Continuous calibration is very hard, because it will be difficult to locate the posts while the robot is in motion and calculate location, especially given the slow processors on board.

Our robot did almost everything you mentioned in this paragraph, and was surprisingly accurate. We could drive around for the full 15 seconds of autonomous mode and when we finished, our robot would be within 6 inches of it's expected location, and most of that was due to the robot coasting past it's last waypoint.

We were able to achieve this kind of accuracy this year with a very poor selection of sensors. If FIRST plans on having autonomy again next year, our team (and others I hope) will be encouraging them to provide more sensors in the kit or allow us to buy more sensors ($100 at Digikey didn't really buy a lot in terms of sensors).

With better types of sensors, it should be easier for other teams to make systems similar to ours with similar accuracy. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the idea of an entirely autonomous match is good. It would be amazingly difficult to build/program, and probably wouldn't be that exciting to watch.

Then again, I only expected like 1/4 to 1/2 of the teams this year to have an autonomous mode at all. I really thought that a lot of teams wouldn't be able to make it work or just wouldn't bother. I was clearly very wrong. Nearly every team had some type of autonomous mode, and the vast majority of those teams were at least reasonably effective at it.

AlbertW
04-24-2003, 12:14 PM
Well, they could do a small-scale GPS:

have 3 broadcast beacons - in 3 corners of the field - broadcasting an identical pseudorandom code, and have a reciever that calculates the differences in the signal to calculate it's position, then the OI could ask it for a position from the reciever whenever it needed it. it would be precice and fast.

seanwitte
04-24-2003, 12:53 PM
Originally posted by Aonic
Well, they could do a small-scale GPS:
have 3 broadcast beacons - in 3 corners of the field - broadcasting an identical pseudorandom code, and have a reciever that calculates the differences in the signal to calculate it's position, then the OI could ask it for a position from the reciever whenever it needed it. it would be precice and fast.

GPS works because there is a measurable time delay between when a signal is sent from space till the time it hits the ground. Beacons on the field would be too close to measure that delay.

You could do it with ultrasound though. Each RC gets a module that listens to commands over RF (or IR) and sends a chirp when it hears its name. Ultrasonic receivers are placed at the four corners of the field. The field controller cycles through the robots connected to the competition port, calling each one in turn, measuring the time till it hears a chirp at each receiver. It processes the data and sends the coordinates through the competition port.

Or you could reverse it and have the robot listen for chirps from the four corners. Each corner would send an RF or IR signal identifying itself and a chirp at the same time. The RC would measure the time between that signal and when it hears the chirp. I read a paper from CMU about a team of mini autonomous robots that use that method to determine their position.

dlavery
04-24-2003, 04:30 PM
Originally posted by patrickrd
I think a fully autonomous game would be great, however, I think at this time it is far too difficult for a high school competition, especially in a 6-week period.

That will be a real surprise to all the high school teams that already compete in the BotBall program (http://www.botball.org/) competitions. BotBall is based on the MIT 6.270 Introduction to Robotics competitions (http://www.mit.edu:8001/activities/6.270/home.html). They have teams of high school students (no engineers), six weeks to build their robots, complex problems, multiple robots playing at the same time, and the robots are fully autonomous (no human control at all). And they have been doing it for the past seven years.

These teams have already addressed virtually every problem outlined in the referenced message (autonomous orientation and localization, hazard recognition and avoidance, dynamic environments [moving opponent robots], fault recognition and recovery, navigation error recovery, etc.). If they can do it, then I would see no reason that it could not be accomplished by FIRST teams as well.

To be clear, they use some different hardware. The BotBall control system is based on the Handyboard (http://handyboard.com/) processor running Interactive C (http://www.botball.org/about_botball/ic4.html). But with a few modifications, a version of the IFI controller could have the same capabilities. They combine some very cheap sensors with some very smart students creating some very impressive code, and away they go...

-dave

dlavery
04-24-2003, 04:52 PM
Originally posted by seanwitte
GPS works because there is a measurable time delay between when a signal is sent from space till the time it hits the ground. Beacons on the field would be too close to measure that delay.

A group in the Aerospace Robotics Lab (http://sun-valley.stanford.edu/) at Stanford (currently run by Dr. Steve Rock, who is one of the mentors on Team 115) developed "GPS pseudolite" (pseuo-satellite) technology that takes care of this. They basically use ground-mounted Differential GPS transmitters to create an artificial GPS constellation, which can be placed within a small facility. Off-the-shelf commercial Trimble GPS receivers (http://www.trimble.com/) are then used to capture the signal and determine position (with one receiver) or position and orientation (with two receivers). As long as you know the position of the transmitters with good accuracy, you can get centimeter-level positioning accuracy out of the system (they are currently working on a self-calibrating pseudolite array that you would just plug in and let the pseudolites communicate between themselves to determine relative positions).

Because DGPS relies on the phase differences to determine range, rather than strict time delay, the transmitter-receiver distance can be quite small. The lab at Stanford uses the system to track the position and orientation of free-floating robots on their air bearing tables, and localizing Mars rover prototypes in demo fields. They frequently have transmitter distances less than two meters.

The only real cost of the system is in the pseudolite transmitters to establish the localization context (i.e. buy a few transmitters and place them on the edges of a robotic play field). The robots only need one or two receivers, which are cheap, and they get precise localization and orientation information that can plug straight into a control system.

-dave

JasonStern
04-24-2003, 05:08 PM
what about having human inputted autonomous modes? I agree FIRST probably isn't ready for a full scale autonomous comp, but it might be able to handle small scale. Rather than having joysticks, have buttons/ toggle switches/etc, with each operating a different autonomous mode. for example, if we were still playing this years game, have one button hunt for the reflective tape on stacks, have another center the bot on the ramp, a third stack boxes, etc. basicly, each button would have the bot go into a different subroutine. this way, it would still be human controled, but autonomously operated! Also, in order to stop someone from having 4 buttons and emulating a joystick (ie, one goes forward, one goes back, one left, one right) have it set up so that the driver can only change the robot's subroutine every 5 seconds or so. a team could them use a joystick if they really wanted too, but it wouldn't work very well. just an idea which i doubt will ever happen, but i can see a lot of interesting strategies developing is it did.

patrickrd
04-24-2003, 07:59 PM
I have no doubt that there are teams out there who can do it, but there are also a large number who could not (this is just my speculation, however). Without the right mentors, I think it would be very difficult. HOWEVER, what's the point in doing something if it's not difficult? ;)

I think it might be great to try it some year. FIRST doesn't seem afraid to try new things (see 2000 game)... And if it doesn't work out, they don't hesitate to change things back.

If FIRST analyzes this idea and determines it can do it in a way that will not turn away half the teams, let's go for it. I'd love to help mentor a team with this type of stuff!

- Patrick

Originally posted by dlavery
These teams have already addressed virtually every problem outlined in the referenced message (autonomous orientation and localization, hazard recognition and avoidance, dynamic environments [moving opponent robots], fault recognition and recovery, navigation error recovery, etc.). If they can do it, then I would see no reason that it could not be accomplished by FIRST teams as well.

Kevin A
04-24-2003, 08:14 PM
Originally posted by Andy Grady
Ok...I will admit that the Autonomous mode was more successful than I thought it would be. Though I still prefer the game without it. However, if FIRST were to ever go to full autonomous rounds, I'd join Battlebots the next day and never look back!

Congrats to all,
Andy Grady

Can I join your Battle Bots team? Please dont make this full auto, thats what FLL is for.

Mike Rush
04-24-2003, 11:03 PM
This would be a very difficult challange. Autonomous in the middle would lead to a situation where the initial state of the machine during this mode would be unknown, or at least a set of situations. THis is a ver difficult condition to deal with when planning your actions during this mode.

I'm sure some teams would drive to a 'known' position prior to the start of the autonomous mode, but this would only be the approximate starting condition and difficult to plan for.

But, I'm sure it would be interesting.....

Kevin A
04-24-2003, 11:12 PM
leave it in the beggining until teams get past dead reckoning.
and let the drivers touch the joysticks during auto so your ready to go during human control mode.

squirrels
04-25-2003, 12:23 AM
i say get rid of autonomous, even though it offered a new challenge, everything happened during autonomous mode. during autonomous, nearly all the stacks were knocked over, then it became a war for the king of the hill position and pushing the opposing alliance's boxes out of their scoring zone. i prefer the 100% human control, that way a team's opening move isnt ALWAYS the same, going nearly perfectly everytime, making it difficult for teams w/o autonomous. full driver control tests the driver's control overall since it could end up different, with the driver miscalculating a distance or another robot's speed. my $.02

Winged Globe
04-25-2003, 12:33 AM
Give me a better controller with C, some better sensors, and a lot of caffeine, and I won't care when or how long autonomous is. It would give some members of my team have to redeem ourselves for failure to complete our autonomous programming independent study course...

Originally posted by Wetzel
I heard from a reliable source (also a very evil man) that making the autonomous period in the MIDDLE of the match was an idea with merit and was being considered.


Does this evil man work for NASA? :D

And I think having both autonomous and driver control is a good direction to go, because autonomy is fun (along with something about the definition of "robot") and driver control allows for extreme unpredictability.

Stephen Kowski
04-25-2003, 07:30 AM
Frankly I like the mix of autonomy and human control and think that it should stay that way. The complete autonomy would be a challenge, but it would also be very uneventful.

anish
04-25-2003, 07:52 AM
They would loose almost all none-participant spectators! 4 robots driving into wells and getting stuck on bins isnt very exciting for 2 minutes. 15 seconds of autonomous keeps things interesting...

jon
04-25-2003, 08:23 AM
If it whole thing was autonomous, what would the drivers do? And in the middle would be great. Teams would be forced to add sensors to make the robots actual robots, instead of just glorified remote controlled cars.

Ian W.
04-25-2003, 09:47 AM
if we had better sensors, a better language, and a slightly faster chip (for instance, the light sensors ran so fast, you may have missed a signal from them), i think autonomous anywhere would be at least feasible. at the moment though, uh, no, it won't work very well.

Collin Fultz
04-25-2003, 10:32 AM
Originally posted by squirrels
then it became a war for the king of the hill position and pushing the opposing alliance's boxes out of their scoring zone. i prefer the 100% human control, that way a team's opening move isnt ALWAYS the same, going nearly perfectly everytime, making it difficult for teams w/o autonomous

the war for king of the hill was simply a mistake in the scoring system. KOTH (in most cases) decided the match and auton or no auton that was gonna be the case. last year was 100% human control and at the Champs in the elimination a lot was decided in the first 5 seconds. All hammond had to do was deploy their pneumatic, fall over, drive a little ways, lock on and the game was basically over (except at IRI where some crafty driving stopped the beast). then the game became a pushing match against hammond. we have to face it...for the last two years, the game has revolved around drivetrains. to be competitive you have to maximize power while maximizing torque. leave the auton, it made human playering a lot more fun because you could try to mess it up...plus it forced better programming that couldn't be messed up.

D.J. Fluck
04-25-2003, 10:44 AM
Originally posted by Mike Rush
This would be a very difficult challange. Autonomous in the middle would lead to a situation where the initial state of the machine during this mode would be unknown, or at least a set of situations. THis is a ver difficult condition to deal with when planning your actions during this mode.

I'm sure some teams would drive to a 'known' position prior to the start of the autonomous mode, but this would only be the approximate starting condition and difficult to plan for.

But, I'm sure it would be interesting.....

I wouldn't challenge Mr. Wetzel's source... as he said, this man is very evil and Im 90% sure know exactly who it is....

Adam Y.
04-25-2003, 10:46 AM
I'm sure some teams would drive to a 'known' position prior to the start of the autonomous mode, but this would only be the approximate starting condition and difficult to plan for.
A question but why do you need to know where the robot is??? There are few types of autonomous competitions that involve a robot not knowing where it is and ambling along to find it's objective. A suggestion from me would to set up a mini sumo competition.
if we had better sensors, a better language, and a slightly faster chip (for instance, the light sensors ran so fast, you may have missed a signal from them), i think autonomous anywhere would be at least feasible. at the moment though, uh, no, it won't work very well.
Microprosser smipcropresser. I do not need one to build an autonomous robot.

Ian W.
04-25-2003, 10:57 AM
Originally posted by Adam Y.
A question but why do you need to know where the robot is??? There are few types of autonomous competitions that involve a robot not knowing where it is and ambling along to find it's objective. A suggestion from me would to set up a mini sumo competition.


those are small robots with one intention, to push the other robot out of the field. similarly, the soccer robots are meant to find a soccer ball and "kick it." i saw some robots that chase each other, "sheep" and "wolves" style to get power to continue to run.

the main difference is all of those robots are designed with one purpose in mind, and over a large period of time (large being over 6 weeks).

take a FIRST bot now. most teams aren't done till the last week. that leaves barely any time for testing. the autonomous program also has to mesh with the human controlled mode. it has to take everything the robot does into account. it's not easy, and when you have a 130 lbs robot, it gets all that much harder.

it's not impossible, but with the current equipment it'll be hard.

Bduggan04
04-25-2003, 11:19 AM
Autonomous at the end would have been interesting last year by allowing the "home and away" type devices to operate in the last ten or fifteen seconds making this a more pivotal part of the game. actually i think almost any past game could have been accented by a touch of autonomous. I never liked the fact that a good auton usually determined the match.

Adam Y.
04-25-2003, 11:25 AM
Anyway the point I was trying to make was that if autonomous was in the middle of the game there would be a shift from navagation and to knowing where you are to collesion advoidence and object identification. This would be kind of hard with the senors we have now.

Jack Jones
04-25-2003, 11:33 AM
Running the entire match in autonomous mode == Dreadful, simply dreadful!
What's next, filling the stands with mannequins and tape-recorded cheers - laptops running Power Point loops for the judges? //end sarcasm

KotH was exciting - keep it.
Autonomous at the beginning - KISS, for all the above language and build-time constraints.
More terrain features - let's build a real suspension - so much for KISS :)

Jeff Waegelin
04-25-2003, 11:51 AM
Originally posted by anish
15 seconds of autonomous keeps things interesting...

Absolutely. To a point, autonomous makes the game more exciting. Rely on it too much, and it may get less exciting. The combo of autonomous and human control makes FIRST unique, and I think that's a good direction to go in. Make auto more important, but still allow for that added dimension that humans bring to the equation.

petek
04-25-2003, 12:03 PM
In my mind this year's autonomous period was well-suited to this year's game. It added a level of complexity and challenge, but IMHO didn't necessarily determine the outcome of the match.

The big problem I saw was that the combination of 6 week build and limited or no practice ramp availability at regionals heavily favored the more experienced teams. Even a simple dead reckoning system took some time to fine tune with a ramp at your disposal.

Of the three regionals I attended (Chesapeake, Philly, and J&J) only Chesapeake had a practice ramp. If your first regional didn't have a practice ramp and if you weren't somewhere in the ballpark when you unpacked, it was difficult to get autonomous working, even if you had no other robot problems.

Of course if your team had deep pockets and could built two robots and a ramp, you could get it all working in the time between shipping and your regionals. This advantage could be at least partially offset for smaller and rookie teams if all regionals had adequate practice areas. This would also benefit all teams when it was necessary to replace motors or make other drive system changes during competitions.

BK36
04-25-2003, 12:03 PM
I think that autonomous mode should definitely be kept. Because without it us programmers have really no purpose since driver mode isn't too hard to program. However I don't really mind the length of the autonomous mode or where it is. Anything can be done with enough caffiene. :D

Brandon Martus
04-25-2003, 12:12 PM
I merged this and another very similar autonomous thread.
Hopefully it didn't get too hard to read now.. oops.

And, to add to the discussion, I still stand by my 'random autonomous period(s)' idea. :D

Joe Matt
04-25-2003, 12:31 PM
My only real problem with this years field is that KotH got so much points and it was easy to get up on it. My idea would be for a KotH thing next year, but have auton on the last 15 seconds. That would allow for a more vicious and cooler battle up-top for points. This could be done by sensors and other field detection features.

Kyle
04-25-2003, 12:40 PM
Originally posted by JosephM
My only real problem with this years field is that KotH got so much points and it was easy to get up on it. My idea would be for a KotH thing next year, but have auton on the last 15 seconds. That would allow for a more vicious and cooler battle up-top for points. This could be done by sensors and other field detection features.

I didnt know that vicious battles were what the game was about.
It would be cool to see alittle more auto mode but i know the first 15 seconds of the match and the last 15 seconds of the match I was really nurvious. I also like the idea of having the auto mode in the middle of the match.

Jessi
04-25-2003, 03:03 PM
i think that autonomous should be kept.. it makes a new path that programmers can take.. robots in real companies dont run with a driver behind them, pressing buttons, telling them what to do.. its all autonomous. the is just another way of FIRST opening the doors for future knowledge into high schools and colleges.

Chris Hibner
04-25-2003, 03:12 PM
Originally posted by JosephM
My idea would be for a KotH thing next year, but have auton on the last 15 seconds. That would allow for a more vicious and cooler battle up-top for points. This could be done by sensors and other field detection features.

If the game is like this year's, I don't like the idea of autonomous mode at the end of the game. I think that if the autonomous period was at the end of the match this year, many teams would opt to not even bother with autonomous programming - just get to the top with more than 15 seconds to go, deploy a lock-down mechanism, and you don't need any autonomous code.

In almost every game since I've been involved in FIRST (7 years now), the opening move of the match usually sets the stage for the rest of the match (i.e. the opening is VERY important). Therefore, by making the autonomous period at the beginning, it forces the teams to take it seriously and makes the teams be creative.

-Chris

miketwalker
04-25-2003, 04:34 PM
http://www.nandotimes.com/technology/story/867356p-6056222c.html You probably wanna check that out. It's really interesting, it's autonomously run robots playing soccer (or futbol :)). They have no human interaction once they go.... compared to what that league does, we barely compare in the sense of autonomous... but the thing is... if we all worked a bit more and taught ourselves and had to literally have programming teams work to learn (which seems to be what is happening from autonomous, and that's an excellent thing I think) and make robots that can work with their environment, not just timers... and react to other team's actions, it would really give us a real-world experience and we'd learn lots more about what happens in engineering.

Adam Y.
04-25-2003, 08:45 PM
They also have resuce robots which are pretty cool.
Here is another news link on it:
http://http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2003-04-25-robo-soccer_x.htm
Here is the website for the college people:
www.robocup.org (www.robotcup.org)
Here it is for the junior devision:
http://satchmo.cs.columbia.edu/rcj/rcj2003/

D.J. Fluck
04-30-2003, 01:00 PM
If you want to see what I thought was the best autonomous (I may sound biased, but it was 68 that did a majority of the work ;))mode run by KoH bots, here is match 63 at the championship between 45 and 68 against 118 and 541. 118 got tipped early, but 541 played tough and only lost 63 to 61. Excellent match.

Hey the best part is that the human player mode features me, although that was a more routine stack round for me....not my best round ;)

http://www.soap108.com/2003/movies/gal/gal_063.asf

Kris Verdeyen
04-30-2003, 01:49 PM
Sure, post the round we got tipped! Er... one of. My favorite autonomous round (no video, sorry) was the first one we were in on Friday at Lone Star - the robot made it to the top of the ramp and locked down (or at least it does in my memory) after a complete transmission rebuild the day before. A few of us weren't sure the thing would even roll.

Bob Steele
04-30-2003, 02:12 PM
Hmmmm reading through these posts I have just two comments..

If we have Middle School Kids doing full autonomous in Lego League competition...why is it that our high school teams couldn't do full autonomous..??? I am not advocating that position just asking the question....I do believe with the right tools and the right game...full autonomous might be very interesting...


(2) What about an event in which the human controllers can only "see" through the eyes of the robot? The robot would need a variety of sensors...including a camera perhaps...but human control would only be through the senses of the robot for positioning, etc. This would require some very interesting options for AI robots in which gross errors could be compensated for by feed back to HUMAN controllers....might be very interesting too...

Just ideas...
not rumours...

Bob

Jeff Waegelin
04-30-2003, 02:19 PM
Originally posted by Bob Steele
If we have Middle School Kids doing full autonomous in Lego League competition...why is it that our high school teams couldn't do full autonomous..??? I am not advocating that position just asking the question....I do believe with the right tools and the right game...full autonomous might be very interesting...

Yes, but as has been said before, Lego League teams don't have to worry about having 3 other robots on the field during their matches. It's a lot harder to do a fully autonomous game when you have 3 unpredictable machines out there with you.

Andrew
04-30-2003, 02:21 PM
Another neat approach might be to make the player stations opaque and allow driving/manipulating -only- from a robot mounted camera.

This would be a more real-world tele-operated example. As with full autonomy, it would require a complete change from the existing controller.

On another topic...if we had better sensors and a better control unit, more teams would integrate controls, signal processing, and autonomy into their existing robot.

A. Snodgrass
04-30-2003, 03:14 PM
Autonomous code encouraged teams to work together with their programmers. I think actually...from a team standpoint...it brought the programmers even more into the picture. Teams were required to figure out how they were going to do the autonomous mode. In 2002 a group of programmers got together and started talking about their positions on their team. Although not everybody felt this way...there were a good number of them who felt like they were a bit separated from the rest of the team. With the advent of autonomous...the programmer suddenly became a bigger consideration and programming became more important if you wanted to move during autonomous mode. There were other teams where the programmers were really incorporated well into their teams, and they worked well together. The programmers I met from those teams tended to have actually done some bit of tricky code to make their bot work in a special way, or they had incorporated something neat that their program processed the input and output of.

FreeBSDboy
04-30-2003, 07:23 PM
Although this years competition was structured such that there was an emphasis on cooperation, I think they should take that one step further for next year. For example, some task that required cooperation to complete for a bonus.

Wireless communication between robots on the same team would also be neat. So they could talk to each other durring autonomous mode.

gsensel
05-01-2003, 04:01 PM
I like the opaque shield and having all control is through sensors/ a camera on board the robot.
I think the fully autonomous would be not interesting to spectators.

Adam Y.
05-01-2003, 06:23 PM
Yes, but as has been said before, Lego League teams don't have to worry about having 3 other robots on the field during their matches. It's a lot harder to do a fully autonomous game when you have 3 unpredictable machines out there with you
I would hate to burst your buble but there is a competition like lego league where there is six robots on the field at any given time.

mgreenley
05-28-2003, 06:58 PM
Originally posted by gsensel
I like the opaque shield and having all control is through sensors/ a camera on board the robot.
I think the fully autonomous would be not interesting to spectators.

I completly agree, an opaque shield with the only interaction being through sensors would be cool, but... the problem remains that the teams could look up to the big screen TV to get visual aid and removing the TV's cuts way back on the spectator quality of the competition.

We should definitly keep autonomous either way though.

Just my two hundreths of a fourty three Haitian gourds (2 cents)

Kel D
05-28-2003, 10:10 PM
Sorry, this is a bit off the subject, but how many teams actually were able to test their autonomous program before the practice day at regionals? Since we dont have a lot of money or any space, we couldnt build an adequate set-up in order to test our program. Since so many things effect the program (like carpet and so forth), without that set-up, it was hard to do any testing. So when we got to our first regional on the practice day, we had to just put our robot on the field, turn it on, and hope it didnt kill someone (which it nearly did the first practice round we used our arm). Since you can't keep tweaking your program and downloading it to try it out until you get it right, like you can if you are at the workshop practicing on your own set-up, we found it very difficult to get our autonomous mode to do what we wanted it to do. We initially wanted to have our arm sweep across the ramp and then have our robot drive forward, turn and start heading up the ramp, but we could not for the life of us get our bot up the ramp. Every time we had it written for the robot to move after we swung the arm, it was a disaster. So we did the only thing we could, and just cut that part out, preventing any further threats to innocent by-standers' safety. But i was just wondering if most teams ran into the same problem that we did? Thats basically the only problem i have with keeping the autonomous mode.

GregTheGreat
05-29-2003, 11:22 AM
We were one of the teams that got a great deal of time to work with our programming. I noticed that many teams at least at the regionals I attended, did not have the time or resources to do any testing. I think that this puts teams at a disadvantage. What I would recommend, to buy software that can test "artificially" on the computer you're programming. I would contact university's that may already have the software, and may be able to lend you a copy. That way you can walk in with an idea of where to begin. With practice it is hard, and the more testing you have the better. If you guys ever need help with you're program give me an e-mail and I would be more then happy to help in any way I can.

Mark McLeod
05-29-2003, 03:19 PM
Like many other Teams we were only able to run autonomous once on the robot prior to shipping. While auto worked out of the box at the regional, at the first practice the robot went through the stacks like a bullet with the arms going the opposite direction and not opening and smashed into the driver wall at full speed (we thought there'd be other robots to push against). We spent all the practice sessions and the Qualifying Matches fixing, modifying, fine-tuning and playing with different autonomous programs. In our video tapes we can really see the programs changing drastically at first then gradually demonstrating smaller and smaller corrections. We only stopped changing the code when Finals began.

We were lucky enough to have a dedicated core programming team of two students and two mentors, so we were able to spend a lot of time on development, but it was still the first year for all of us. We foresaw not being able to test on the real robot and countered the problem by designing autonomous to run as a script. That allowed us to safely make big behavior changes at the first regional.

Full autonomous would be quite a challenge over and above the navigational issues. New teams would not have the background to know how to integrate the sensors through a custom circuit or even that they must to get the accuracy required by match long autonomous. FIRST would have to formalize a standard solution to this that all the teams have. Then the more experienced Teams could add additional capabilities, but every Team would start with a basic level of competitiveness.

Kel D
05-29-2003, 05:36 PM
Originally posted by GregTheGreat
We were one of the teams that got a great deal of time to work with our programming. I noticed that many teams at least at the regionals I attended, did not have the time or resources to do any testing. I think that this puts teams at a disadvantage. What I would recommend, to buy software that can test "artificially" on the computer you're programming. I would contact university's that may already have the software, and may be able to lend you a copy. That way you can walk in with an idea of where to begin. With practice it is hard, and the more testing you have the better. If you guys ever need help with you're program give me an e-mail and I would be more then happy to help in any way I can.

how do you test your auto program using this software that you're talkin about? sorry, i just started learning about programming, i dont know much about it. it just seems to me that there are so many different things that the program is dependent on and if you dont have exactly the same conditions that will be present at a competition, you cant really test your program. i know for our team, we could only build half the ramp with 2/3 of the metal grid and no carpet. we just dont have enough space or money. and we felt like we were at a big disadvantage, but there was nothing we could do and we figured out a way to manage with what we had. i am sure that there were many other teams with the same problem as us.

p.s. thanks for the offer to help.

Mike
04-28-2005, 06:00 PM
how do you test your auto program using this software that you're talkin about? sorry, i just started learning about programming, i dont know much about it. it just seems to me that there are so many different things that the program is dependent on and if you dont have exactly the same conditions that will be present at a competition, you cant really test your program. i know for our team, we could only build half the ramp with 2/3 of the metal grid and no carpet. we just dont have enough space or money. and we felt like we were at a big disadvantage, but there was nothing we could do and we figured out a way to manage with what we had. i am sure that there were many other teams with the same problem as us.

p.s. thanks for the offer to help.
The kind of software that he is talking about would be used just to make sure you have the basic framework down. You would load some form of compiled code, or even the code itself (depending on the type) into software and it would move an onscreen object in the same way that your robot would move.

EDIT: The best thing that I could recommend would be the Robovation kit. Instead of being an onscreen image like the software, it's an actual physical object that reacts to the environment. You can also (in smaller scale, of course) replicate unique objects of your robot (arms, etc.), to test even more in depth.