Meeting Carla: My First Self-Driving Car


Seeing Is Believing

I successfully made it through Term 1 and into Term 2 of Udacity's Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree program, but if felt like part of the puzzle was missing; I'd never actually seen one with my own eyes. I felt somewhat disconnected from what I was learning and experiencing what it meant in the real world, so I decided to go find out!

I flew ~3500miles to get to Udacity's Mountain View HQ to meet members of the SDCND team in person, and of course, to meet Carla, the self-driving car upon, we test our engineering skills at the end of Term 3.

I was fortunate enough to spend an evening with Carla watching student projects (anonymous with no identifying information) run live on the car.

It Was Worth It: Lessons Learned

There were some valuable lessons I learned, and "gotchas" I'll try to avoid when I get to the Term 3 capstone:

  • The PID controller: some projects exhibited rapid and sudden acceleration. This would be difficult to optimize using only a simulator, but is an important consideration for how the car handles in the real-world.
  • Similarly, some projects exhibited pumping or forceful braking action, which would be uncomfortable for  passengers.
  • Traffic light detection: there were some cases when the car wouldn't detect the traffic light and keep going. That's something you definitely don't want to happen going through an intersection.
  • Drift: In most projects, the car followed the waypoints well enough. Being inside the real car reminds you how low the tolerances are for error; being off 1 meter can be the difference between being on the road and in the bushes!
  • Most projects were designed to run the the course just once then terminate the program, but it would be nice (though not required) to run through the waypoints multiple times to ensure everything is running sufficiently well.

I'll Be Back

I only spent two days in Mountain View. Ideally, I'd like to visit again after completing Term 2 to spend more time, and meet more folks in there area.

Until then, it's back to work and getting Term 2 checked off on this amazing journey!