How this project has been impacted by COVID:
Humans are a powerful species that have revolutionized the world but we do not live on this planet alone. From vicious creatures to powerful microbes, there are many things on this planet that can affect our way of life. While viruses are not a living organism, they have a powerful effect on our lives and this pandemic has shown us how much our lives can be impacted by a microbe we don’t yet fully understand. While someday science will prevail and we will overcome this obstacle, its impact on our lives today will change how we step forward tomorrow.
As a recap for those unaware, halfway through the previous semester, CSU Channel Islands switched to a virtual learning program to enable students to continue their educational career while social distancing to reduce the spread of the virus. So, for me, for half of the capstone preparation class and the capstone project class, it was virtual and away from campus. In addition, many companies both locally and internationally had shut down production and store inventories started to be limited as manufacturing was halted. These all are aspects that are a direct result of the virus’s widespread pandemic.
While this project was already gaining popularity among hobbyists and was resulting in parts constantly selling out, due to the pandemic, there was a long period of limited availability for some of this project’s components. The RC vehicle base was one component that was limited in availability before the pandemic and worsened afterwards. At first, I had considered dropping the concept of building the vehicle but after the Fall semester started by a couple of weeks, I was fortunate to find the vehicle base and was able to piece the rest of the components soon after.
This project also required some parts to be 3D-printed to hold the components to the base vehicle. Due to limited on-campus access, it proved to be difficult to be able to 3D-print parts and test them. Instead of re-designing the chassis that holds the components to the vehicle base, I opted to use the tried-and-tested design from other hobbyists to build my vehicle and had the parts shipped to me by our on-campus lab technician (Thank you Rickie!).
When this project was originally conceptualized, once the vehicle was built, testing of lap times and AI performance were to be conducted on campus in an open space. The main impact from COVID was the absence of such space. While I made various attempts at running the vehicle from within my house both indoors, outdoors, and in the driveway, the track was either too small or had too many nearby obstacles, such as walls, that would limit the ability to train the AI. This impact wasn’t experienced until I had built the vehicle and started trying to test it in various environments. I resorted to taking the vehicle to a park with a tarp acting as the base of my track but the power of the motor to the wheels resulted in the tarp constantly shifting. In addition, the tarp wasn’t big enough to provide a suitable track for testing. Therefore, while I still built the vehicle and attempted to test its AI capabilities and performance in a real-world environment, these limits prevented the direction I was hoping to take this project. Instead, I turned back to a different solution which had been born from this pandemic and utilized a virtual simulator for this vehicle that allowed the same concepts but in a virtual, simulated environment.
To say this was the only ways this project was impacted would be an understatement. In addition to the reduced oversight from the Professor that would have been better given in an in-person environment, there were many other ways this project was impacted by COVID. Most of these other factors fall into personal effects such as stress, anxiety, and even sorrow as people close to me were diagnosed with the disease and some even passed away. But it is humanity’s job to push through the tough times and rise stronger than before. So while there will be casualties along the way and daily life might change many aspects of our lives, when we work together, we can make the best of any situation.
In conclusion, I would like to express sincere gratitude to my professor, Dr. Jason Isaacs, for understanding these obstacles and working with me in finding solutions through these difficult times. I also want to say thank you to the school administration, doctors, nurses, and other workers that are still there trying to keep the world a better place despite the setbacks. May we overcome this obstacle and become a better, stronger society going forward.