The Menlo Roundtable

Design and Engineering of an Autonomous Line-Following Pacer

For those who run races, the seconds between running too fast and running too slow are a daily struggle in practice, and are even more important in competitions.

But while every other aspect of the sport, from the rubber of the tracks to the carbon fiber in 3D-printed shoes, has been updated with modern technology, athletes must still rely on a ’gut and feel’ approach to pacing. The goal of this project is to provide a reliable, mechanical alternative to a human pacer. This pacer is a line-following robot, specifically targeting the lane lines of a track. It would be able to keep a constant pace, and would be able to accurately follow the curve of the track.

Line following has become a standard challenge in robotics, with several organized competitions dating back to the early 2000s. Competitors are judged for their accuracy in following the course, as well as the speed of their run. The pacer in this project would not need to perform at this level, as line following competitions often ask robots to navigate pseudo-random paths with sharp turns. This pacer would only have to navigate the smooth oval turns found on a track.

Line followers also have very practical industry applications. For one example, a line following technology could replace traditional conveyor belts in a warehouse system, similar to Amazon’s autonomous system. Additionally, the technology has obvious applications towards autonomous vehicles, although clearly a car that drives over the center line would not be ideal. Nevertheless, a successful line-follower would provide valuable insight into how to program a self-driving car. Line followers could also be used in much less dynamic situations, such as a personal home assistant, helping elderly or disabled residents move around their home in much the same way as a stair lift does today.