It’s sad, but true, that each year robots don’t participate in matches because of easily remedied driver station issues.
Here’s my list of tips and tricks to ensure that the driver station isn’t a stopper for your team at the field. Building a new driver station laptop is an easy project for the time between stop build and your competition.
Consider dedicating a laptop to use as a driver station. Many teams do.
Use a business-class laptop as your driver station, as they are much more durable than the $300 Black Friday special at Best Buy. They’re much more resistant to being dropped, and the ports are designed for repeated use. The driver station software uses very little resources, so you don’t need to buy a new laptop – instead, buy a cheap 4-5 year old used one. You might even get one donated by a used computer store in your area. Lenovo Thinkpad T series and Dell Latitude are two business-class brands you’ll commonly see.
Use Windows 10 if possible, otherwise Windows 7. These are the two most commonly used Windows versions for driver stations, which means you’re less likely to run into bugs related to OS variation.
Install all Windows updates. You should be able to go into the Update settings page and see that you’re up-to-date. It’s a gamble to show up at the field with an OS update pending.
Install the required Driver Station update.
Remove any 3rd party antivirus or antimalware software. Use Defender (win10) or Security Essentials (win7).
Turn off the wifi adapter when you’re at the competition, either using the dedicated hardware wifi switch or by disabling it in the Adapter Settings control panel.
Don’t install any other software on the driver station laptop other than what’s needed for driving. Remove any crapware that came with the machine. Don’t use the driver station laptop as your Steam machine for gaming back at the hotel the night before the event.
Ensure that you have a fully charged battery. Put the laptop on the charger after each match. If your laptop battery is suspect, buy a new one. If you can’t buy a new one, be sure to bring the power adapter to the field.
You’d be surprised at how often drivers arrive at the field without knowing the password for the laptop.
The account you log in to drive must be in the Administrator group on the laptop.
Ensure that the driver station is fastened with velcro to the shelf.
If your driver station laptop has a rotating disk, replace it with a SSD.
If you have programming tools (Eclipse/LabVIEW) on the driver station laptop, close them prior to the match.
If the Ethernet port on your laptop is dodgy, either replace the laptop (recommended) or buy a USB Ethernet dongle.
Each time you connect to the field, check to make sure that the joysticks/controllers are assigned to the correct ports. The USB tab in the driver station software is the place to do this.
Don’t plan on having internet access at the event. There won’t be any in the venue, and hotel wifi varies widely in quality.