Monday, June 13, 2005

Why I'll Let My Kids Play Video Games

Today's post highlights a part-time Oaklyner, home town to the Hatcher. Paul Perrone used to spend his summers in Oaklyn, despite growing up close to the coast - which should tell you something about his unconventional nature. Back then he was the proud owner of a Commodore 64, which could barely keep pace with an abicus. He quickly grew bored of spending sunny days stuck inside playing video games, and instead chose to spend sunny days digging into the underlying code. Now he is on the cusp of winning $2 million by having his manless vehicle Tommy travel 140 miles through the desert (with no water!).

He lives in Charlottesville, where he has become a gentleman robot maker, and he has named the team he has assembled after Thomas Jefferson. Perrone, inspired by the lack of cheap of domestic labor following the Emancipation Proclamation, has set out to have his household chores performed by robots. (Of course, the robots provide no Sally Hemmings potential, but they still have their advantages.) Here is a link to his website, an article concerning his recent advancement in the competition, and below is an article from the Philly Inquirer. If any you comparative underachievers have an interest in supporting something big, you can offer a sponsorship - contact me and I'll put you in touch with Paul.

Dune buggy progresses
A Va. engineer with South Jersey ties moves ahead. A Moorestown man is out.

By Rusty PrayInquirer Staff Writer

For Mike Selzler, the Moorestown man who entered a competition to develop a fully autonomous vehicle, the race is over - at least for now.

For Paul Perrone, an electrical engineer with close ties to South Jersey, the run just got really interesting.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an arm of the Defense Department, announced last week that 40 vehicles would move on to a national qualifying event. Selzler's converted 1995 Ford Bronco was not among them; Perrone's gas-powered custom dune buggy, Tommy, was.

The semifinalists will compete Sept. 27-Oct. 5 at California Speedway in Fontana, where the field - originally 195 - will be cut to 20. The final will be Oct. 8 in the Southwest.

DARPA is offering $2 million to anyone who can build an autonomous vehicle that completes a rough desert course of 140 to 150 miles - sometimes at speeds greater than 40 m.p.h. - in the shortest time within 10 hours.

Congress has given the Defense Department until 2015 to make one-third of the Army's ground fleet robotic.

Perrone, 36, grew up in towns along the Jersey Shore, including Somers Point, and graduated from Holy Spirit High School in 1987. His parents still live in Mays Landing, and he has family all over the area.

"It's one really large Irish-Italian family," he said last week.

Perrone, who lived for a time in Florida in the mid-1990s, last year bought eight acres outside Charlottesville, Va., where he lives and works full time on teaching Tommy how to drive without a human.

Perrone, who has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Rutgers University and a master's degree from the University of Virginia, finances the project largely through the two companies he runs, Perrone Robotics and Assured Technologies.

He estimates the project has cost $64,000 so far, and expects to spend $35,000 more before the semifinals. That does not include the value of donated time from a group of about 10 who form what he has named Team Jefferson.

Perrone said he had decided to enter the competition, called the 2005 Grand Challenge, largely to showcase robotics software he created.

He had been using it for small robots his company developed for security and surveillance applications, but he wanted to try it on something bigger.

"We like to say we can run a rat-, cat- or elephant-size robot," he said. "We already had mobile, autonomous robots scurrying on the ground, so we decided to take on the elephant-size bot."
At 12 feet long, 6 feet wide and 6 feet high, egg-shaped Tommy is not quite the size of an elephant. The idea of creating a robotic vehicle is.

Tommy performed well in testing before DARPA officials last month. The dune buggy made three perfect runs with no human intervention and no driver on board, three times navigating a 200-meter off-road course that featured rugged terrain and randomly placed obstacles.
Selzler's Bronco failed to complete each of its three runs on a course set out on the parking lot at Atco Speedway. His wife, Alice, said they probably would remove the custom equipment and drive the Bronco around this summer. They'll decide whether to continue the project after the competition. If there is no winner this year, another will be held next year.

Perrone, meanwhile, believes Tommy has a shot. "We already know the vehicle can travel the distance," he said. "We're kind of worried about obstacles jumping out at you. But the fact that we're worried about exceptions is a good sign, I think."


Blogger Incredible Dirigible said...

Question for Lime:

Is Paul Perrone the dude who was special guest star with you, me, & Dark Duffin that night at Total Fitness? The article said he lived in Florida for a time in the mid-1990s; sounds like the same guy.

Maybe he should build a robot that could be a full-time spotter at the gym.

"There is nothing wrong with throwing up or short-circuiting at da gym."

7:20 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...


Lime has been without a computer for weeks, but I can confirm that Perrone is a veteran of Total Soreness.

8:05 AM  
Anonymous Perrone said...

I frequented Total Fitness back in the day. I will look into the robotic spotter idea since I no longer have Duffin, Rick, M, or the Hatcher to lend a hand. I'll have to program it to argue with itself over politics and Debbie Gibson though in order to best simulate the Total Fitness experience. Now I just need to figure out what sort of face to put on it. Maybe the visage of that kid "Moose"?

8:14 AM  

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