No Hands Across America Journal

Day 1: July 23rd, 1995 Pittsburgh to Indianapolis

Driving Time: 7:50am - 2:00pm
Segment Autonomy Stats:
  Autonomous Driving Percentage:  99.2%  (381.12 / 384.38 miles)
  Longest Autonomous Segment:     46.98 miles
  Avg Speed:                      59.6 mph

Total Autonomous Stats:
  Autonomous Driving Percentage:  99.2%  (381.12 / 384.38 miles)
  Longest Autonomous Segment:     46.98 miles
  Avg Speed:                      59.6 mph

We departed Pittsburgh without much fanfare on a sunny Sunday morning. The departure was somewhat anticlimactic after the hectic preparations over the last couple of weeks. The first hour was uneventful, and we crossed into West Virginia at 8:46am. Another 15 minutes passed and we crossed into Ohio at 9:00. The states are going by quickly! During this stretch we traversed our first (of many) construction zones. RALPH handled them admirably, for a one-eyed four month old :-). After our first 60 miles, we were 98% autonomous.

To help us stay alert, we brought along a number of books on tape. Today we listened to Star Trek "Generations", which was pretty mediocre. Entering into Ohio, the road began to look like it will for most of the trip - open fields, long straightaways, lots of trucks. We made fairly good time to Columbus, considering there was a 10 mile detour onto rural state highways. RALPH autonomy stats remained high, around 98%.

We reached Columbus at 11:15am. Shortly before reaching Columbus, we got a surprise call on the cell phone from Doug Pape, a collegue at Battelle Memorial Institute. He and his family had just left Sunday school and wanted to catch of glimpse of Navlab 5 in action. We arranged a rendezvous with them on I-70 West of Columbus. They caught up to us in their minivan, and drove alongside for a few miles. We waved, they snapped a few pictures, and then we were on our own again. But before leaving the Columbus area, a reporter from a local TV station phoned wanting to do a quick interview to supplement the video they got in Pittsburgh on Friday. It was a nice break from the monotony of the open road.

Things were going so well, we decided to push on without stopping. On the road from Columbus to Indianapolis, we started to achieve some long autonomous stretches. During the next two hours, RALPH drove without intervention for several 15+ mile segments, including one of over 45 miles. These included several sections of construction, as well as pretty heavy traffic.

We reached Indianapolis at 2pm, and headed for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the 500. We took some hurried photos at the entrance, and then headed for the visitor's center. In the visitor's center we saw what we hope will be the next generation navlab vehicles - a NASCAR stock car and the 1995 Indy 500 Corvette pace car. After driving around the track [in a tour bus :-( ], we took a few more pictures and left.

Having not eaten since 7:30am, by this time we were starving. We decided on Burger King, and by chance stumbled on what we decided should be the unofficial mascots of the "No Hands Across America" Tour, the Disney/Burger King Pocahontas figurines. We purchased the first of many kid's value meals, and were presented with a statuette of the beautiful leading lady. After a moving ceremony, we firmly duct taped her to the dash, as our guiding light for the rest of the journey.

With the days festivities complete, we headed to the Northern part of Indianapolis, so we'd be ready for tomorrow's visit with one of our primary sponsors, Delco Electronics.

Day 2 Part 1: July 24th, 1995 Indianapolis to St. Louis

Driving Time: 2:30 pm - 6:45pm

Segment Autonomy Stats:
    Autonomous Driving Percentage:  98.7%  (239.05 / 242.18 miles)
    Longest Autonomous Segment:     47.03 miles
    Avg Speed:                      58.05 mph

Total Autonomous Stats:
    Autonomous Driving Percentage:  98.98%  (620.17 / 626.56 miles)
    Longest Autonomous Segment:     47.03 miles
    Avg Speed:                      59.0 mph

The day began in Kokomo, IN with a visit to Delco Electronics, one of our primary sponsors. After giving a talk to about 50 Delco engineers, we demonstrated the system autonomously steering the vehicle as well as operating in a lane departure warning capacity. The talk seemed to be well received and we received many good questions and comments.

After a quick lunch with Ashok Ramaswamy, our liason at Delco, we headed back to Indy to resume our trip. We decided to test RALPH on the way back to make sure it was set up properly for interstate driving. At this point we discovered what we have come to call "The Curse of Pocahontas." During our testing, RALPH was driving erratically, but we couldn't figure out why. We were getting desparate, but then we noticed that our guiding light was affixed to the dashboard. (We had taken her down for the demos.) Just after affixing to the dash, we noticed that the steering wheel encoder connector had fallen off. This was very strange, since minutes before lunch, the system had worked perfectly. After reattaching the connector, RALPH was back to normal. We suspect that Pocahontas and her sidekick, the energizer bunny (who was also sealed in the wooden computer platform) had conspired to somehow disconnect the cable. Or it could have just wiggled loose. But from now on, we are taking no chances. Pocahontas will always be firmly attached to the dash with her sidekick nearby.

During the drive between Indy and St. Louis, we contacted The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Mr. Leno had expressed interest in seeing the vehicle and we wanted to set something up. (He did a joke about Navlab 5 a couple of weeks ago.) Although we're not on the show, we are hopeful that Mr. Leno will be able to take a look at the vehicle and maybe mention the trip during his monologue.

Of special excitement to Todd was the opportunity to drive through Terre Haute, IN again. I spent my undergraduate days there and hadn't been back in a while. Although we didn't get to go through the campus, it was nice to see the scenery again. I pointed out the creosote plant to Dean, who thought it was "quite picturesque. And smelled nice too."

Things were going smoothly until we reached Effingham, IL. There was some unmarked construction (on the AAA map) and it was very frustrating. During this time we had the opportunity to interview 3 guys from Ohio who were heading to Wichita, Kansas. We were stuck next to them in traffic so we decided to show them the vehicle driving itself. They thought it was pretty cool and it passed the time for us.

The section from Effinham to the outskirts of St. Louis went well. (We drove by Pocohantas, IL.) We surpassed our previous longest autonomous segment by a hair with a 47.03 mile stretch without touching the wheel. We were averaging about 99.4% autonomy until just before the Mississippi. At this point several factors conspired to lower our final percentage to 98.7%. First, the road and road markings deteriorated substantially. Next, the sun was getting low on the horizon, causing some specular reflections. And finally, it had started to rain.

We made it to the western edge of town before we decided to take a break for dinner and some sightseeing. In the excitement of acquiring our second Pocahontas action figure (John Smith), Dean somehow lost the entry key to Navlab 5. We searched our pockets, the restaurant, and the the parking lot, but it was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, Todd's Boy Scout background came to our rescue. He had remembered to tape a spare set of keys under the rear bumper. We retrieved them and were on our way, vowing to be more careful in the future. We headed downtown to the Gateway Arch for some quick photos. The sun had now set for the evening so we decided to fill up the tank and head for Kansas City.

Day 2 Part 2: July 23rd, 1995 St. Louis to Kansas City

Driving Time: 8:30 pm - 12:15am

Segment Autonomy Stats:
    Autonomous Driving Percentage:  96.5%  (203.44 / 211.02 miles)
    Longest Autonomous Segment:     25.47 miles
    Avg Speed:                      60.38 mph

Total Autonomous Stats:
    Autonomous Driving Percentage:  98.33%  (823.61 / 837.58 miles)
    Longest Autonomous Segment:     47.03 miles
    Avg Speed:                      59.3 mph

This segment was the first night segment of the trip. RALPH was having problems initially due to poor lane markings and improper low beam headlight alignment. The left headlight is aimed a little too far left, leaving a large dark area about halfway up the left side of the image region that RALPH uses. For the road we were driving on, this meant that the dotted white lane marking did not appear in the RALPH image until it was almost unusable. We solved the problem by driving with the hi-beams on. Suprisingly, only a couple of cars on the other side of ther interstate even noticed that they were on. It seems that we are headlight deprived.

The last part of the trip was pretty frustrating. The road was freshly paved, but the road workers went home before they got a chance to finish all/any of the line painting. Only short dots, where the normal dashed centerline would be, were present. Needless to say, this affected RALPH's performance, but we made it through OK.

During the 210 mile trip, we passed the 1000 total miles driven mark. This included both miles driven autonomously, and those driven to make visits and see sights. In any case, it's a lot of miles to drive in two days. We were quite pleased that RALPH was also able to steer the vehicle without intervention for several 20+ mile stretches, including one of over 25 miles. Although RALPH's overall performance was the lowest yet, the conditions were also the most challenging. More to follow on this segment later, but we are both pretty tired.

Day 3: July 25th, 1995 Kansas City to Denver

Driving Time: 6:30am - 5:50pm

Segment Autonomy Stats:
    Autonomous Driving Percentage:  98.65%  (635.41 / 644.13 miles)
    Longest Autonomous Segment:     68.98 miles
    Avg Speed:                      66.2 mph

Total Autonomous Stats:
    Autonomous Driving Percentage:  98.49%  (1461.72 / 1484.13 miles)
    Longest Autonomous Segment:     68.98 miles
    Avg Speed:                      62.19 mph

After getting about 4 hours sleep, we arose bright eyed and bushy tailed at our Ramada hotel outside of Kansas City. We met with a reporter from Business Week named Otis Port who was going to observe part of the trip for a story on No Hands Across America. The segment started out a little shaky, with a power glitch before we got on the highway. But after a quick reboot, we were off.

The section around Kansas City was actually the toughest daytime stretch we'd encountered thus far. Heavy rush hour traffic, coupled with construction and narrow lanes, resulted in a lower initial autonomy percentage. But we made it up on the interstate between Kansas City and Topeka, driving 94.45 out of 96.42 miles autonomously (98%). This included a 32.5 mile uninterrupted stretch.

We dropped Otis off at the airport in Topeka at about 8:30am to pick up his rental car (his flight was out of Kansas City later that afternoon). He mentioned trying to catch up to us on the highway for some quick outside photos, but once we had gone about 125 miles we gave up looking for him. But then he was there beside us. He took a couple of shots while driving next to us, and then sped ahead to so that he could get a good photo from the shoulder of us passing by him.

At about this time, we passed the sole state trooper we saw all day. In our rear view mirror we saw him pull out. We quickly performed an autonomous lane change, nervously waiting for him to pull in behind us. Much to our relief, he passed us by. Otis was not so lucky. About a mile ahead, we saw the state trooper pull up behind Otis, who was already on the shoulder and out of his car. As we approached, Otis ran by the cop, who was obstructing his view. Otis pulled out his camera and snapped our picture as we drove past waving. We crested a hill and that was the last we saw of Otis and the trooper. During the next 4 hours, we covered 289.75 miles, 99.4% of it autonomous. This stretch included the longest autonomous segment thus far, 68.98 miles.

Like an oasis in the endless fields of wheat, we saw Prairie Dog Town on the horizon.

We needed gas anyway, so we decided to check it out. We payed our $4.75 admission, and entered the most incredible menagerie of creatures to be found on I-70. The tour started off with a box full of rattle snakes. The proprietor, noticing we had cameras in hand, wanted to give us our money's worth. She opened the box and said, "If you're gonna take pictures, I'll stir 'em up a bit for you." She proceeded to poke at the rattlers with a sharp stick, while we rolled the video.

We went out back, and walked past about 50 cages full of pigeons, until we reached one of the star attractions advertised on their giant roadside sign, an 8000 lb. prairie dog. To our disappointment it was only a statue - we had been suckered by a classic bait and switch.

Figuring the whole place was a scam, we walked dejectedly back to the entrance. Passing the proprietor, we asked if the other star attraction, a 6-legged steer, was on vacation. She said, "No, he's back there in the pen." Still skeptical, we asked if she had sewn the extra legs on. She responded, "No, I wouldn't have done that bad a job." By her tone we could tell she was sincere, so we hurried back to check it out. Lo and behold, it was really true, there stood a 6-legged steer. Evidently, the extra appendages made the poor beast somewhat of an outcast, as its other pen-mates bullied it as we tried to pose for a picture. After spending nearly an hour, it was time to go. We thanked the proprietor and left, feeling we had gotten our money's worth.

Our next stop was Burger King, where we collected the next of our Pocahontas action figures, Percy the dog. We ate quickly and resumed the drive to Denver. The next 3 hours were pure excitement - 207 miles of Kansas and Colorado prairie. RALPH drove 99.2% of way.

We entered Denver at rush hour. As we expected, the freeways were jammed. We decided to test out one of RALPH' capabilities - vision-based platooning. We pulled up close behind a tractor trailer and RALPH locked on. RALPH servoed the wheel to follow the truck, changing lanes and taking exit ramps around the Denver Beltway. During this portion, we covered 36.53 miles with RALPH in control 94.1% of the time.

We pulled off the freeway expecting to have an easy time finding our hotel. Unfortunately, we weren't sure which Embassy Suites hotel we had reservations at. This time Todd's Boy Scout abilities failed us, and we got lost on the surface streets of Denver. We finally found the hotel, grabbed a bite to eat and retired for the night.

Day 4: July 26th, 1995 Denver to Grand Junction

Driving Time: 2:15pm - 9:30pm

Segment Autonomy Stats:
    Autonomous Driving Percentage:  95.0%  (214.0 / 225.32 miles)
    Longest Autonomous Segment:     7.69 miles
    Avg Speed:                      57.55 mph

Total Autonomous Stats:
    Autonomous Driving Percentage:  98.0%  (1675.72 / 1709.45 miles)
    Longest Autonomous Segment:     68.98 miles
    Avg Speed:                      61.60 mph

Our day began at 6:15am, installing Dirk Langer's millimeter wave radar on the roof of Navlab 5 in preparation for an ARPA demo at Lockheed Martin. We drove with Dirk to the site, and collected a bunch of radar images along the way. They looked good, and the radar should eventually allow Navlab 5 to control vehicle speed as well as steer.

We gave a static demo of Navlab 5, and people were quite interested. We sold 10 t-shirts and packed up to leave, needing to make Grand Junction by nightfall. On the way out, we wanted to snap our "Greetings from Denver" picture with the foothills of the Rockies in the background. Unfortunately Lockheed Martin's policy prohibits cameras on site. Undaunted, we snuck off down a side road, pulled to the shoulder, and tried to look inconspicuous until nobody else was in view. When the coast was clear, Dirk raced to the other side of the road and snapped a picture. We think it turned out nicely.

We dropped off Dirk and his radar. As we were leaving, we experienced another power glitch that shut down all computing and actuation. At the time we thought little of it, but later we would look back on this event as a sign of things to come. In about 5 minutes, everything was back on line, and we headed out.

Things were going well, but about 25 miles out of Denver, as we were climbing up into the Rocky Mountains, we lost power again. We unplugged some of our auxiliary equipment (VCR, cellular phone), thinking we might be overloading the vehicle's power system during the climb. It appeared everything was working, so we started off again.

This time, just 2 miles later the power dumped again. We were starting to get concerned. We hypothesized that due to the hot weather, the thermal shutdown on the radio shack inverter that powers the computing equipment was tripping. We needed to directly cool the power distribution box in the rear of Navlab 5, but the nearest air condition vent was 12 feet away on the dashboard. In the spirit of Apollo 13, we unpacked the van and surveyed our supplies. Then it hit us, the giant sun shade we had purchased would just reach from the dash to the power box. We fashioned it into a duct, and cranked the AC. In about 5 minutes, the inverter had cooled sufficiently, so we packed up again and continued.

The power problems caused us to fall 2 hours behind our schedule. We were heading into the mountains with the setting sun directly in front of us. Over the next 200.32 miles, both RALPH and the vehicle performed admirably. The inverter held up, and RALPH was able to drive 95.0% of the way.

The sun was just falling behind the mesas as we approached Grand Junction, Colorado. When we turned on the headlights, we noticed the battery voltage seemed to drop significantly. We didn't think much of it, as we only had a few more miles to go. Unfortunately, things were more serious than they initially appeared. The voltage continued to drop, and our headlights got dimmer and dimmer. After about 2 miles, the engine conked out, and we were a stealth minivan coasting down the right lane of I-70. We pulled onto the shoulder, lit a flare and considered our options. It was now pitch black.

We tried the cell phone, but there wasn't enough juice left in the battery to power it. We thought our exit was less than a mile away over the next rise, so we started pushing. After about 100 yards, the rise turned out to be more than we had bargained for. We rested for a few moments, pondering the plight of the Apollo 13 astronauts. If they could make it so could we. We remembered that we had the battery Dirk had used to power his radar, as well as some long jumper cables. We quickly cobbled together an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), and tried the engine. We were afraid the meager charge left in the APU battery would not be enough to start the engine. We held our breath and turned the key. The engine roared to life. After a few quick photos, we loaded the APU onto the passenger floorboard, and secured the connection from APU to the vehicle battery by closing the hood.

Closeup of Auxiliary Power Unit

As the electrical engineer on our team, Todd took charge of monitoring the APU. Because of the very limited charge left, we decided to turn on only our hazard lights. To illuminate the road ahead, all we had left was our trusty flashlight. Needless to say, this wasn't quite enough for RALPH and it didn't matter anyway, since we didn't have nearly enough power to fire up the computer. This left driving responsibility to Dean. Unfortunately, Dean had knocked out one of his contact lens' while adjusting the viewfinder on the camera during the hurried photo session. RALPH could have probably done a better job, but both Dean and the APU held up and we limped to the next exit, where we hoped to find a hotel.

We first tried the Comfort Inn, and in keeping with our day's luck, they had no vacancies. Fortunately the Holiday Inn across the street did. We parked, shut off the APU, and went to our room - our most difficult day so far was over.

Day 5: July 27th, 1995 Grand Junction to Las Vegas

Driving Time: 12:00pm - 9:00pm

Segment Autonomy Stats:
    Autonomous Driving Percentage:  98.8%  (508.16 / 514.18 miles)
    Longest Autonomous Segment:     54.65 miles
    Avg Speed:                      67.50 mph

Total Autonomous Stats:
    Autonomous Driving Percentage:  98.2%  (2183.88 / 2223.63 miles)
    Longest Autonomous Segment:     68.98 miles
    Avg Speed:                      62.97 mph

Dean awoke at 6:00am, anxious to work out the previous day's vehicle problems. He called AAA to get a recommendation for an automotive service center. The only AAA approved garage in the Grand Junction area was Metric Automotive. Dean called Metric, and described the problem to Dave, the service manager. Dave agreed that it could be an alternator problem. He said he thought they could fix it today if we brought it in soon. By now, Todd had woken up, and we decided to save time, instead of having Navlab 5 towed to the garage, we would drive the 5 miles from our hotel to Metric using the Auxilary Power Unit.

We made it to the garage without any problem. And in fact for a few moments contemplated forging ahead, since the vehicle battery now appeared healthy. However we quickly thought better of it, since temperature today in Western Colorado and Utah was forecast to be between 100 and 110 degrees, and we didn't relish the thought of breaking down when the closest exit could be up to 50 miles away.

When we told Dave the nature of our vehicle, he looked a little skeptical. We handed him the keys, and he said "check back in a couple hours and I'll let you know if we've had a chance to look at it." We went to the vehicle to get some stuff to work on during the wait, and Dave followed us out of curiosity. After seeing all the equipment in our vehicle, he became noticeably more interested (telling him we were meeting with Jay Leno in Los Angeles didn't hurt either). We left to eat breakfast and check in with CMU.

When we returned an hour and a half later, the receptionist said that Dave and the electrical systems specialist, Keith, needed to talk to us. They had taken Navlab 5 for a test drive, and had determined that it was in fact an alternator problem. They ordered a replacement, and within an hour, it had arrived and Keith had installed it.

For their prompt service and hard work, we rewarded Dave and Keith with complementary "No Hands Across America" tshirts and a live demonstration of the vehicle driving itself. We took a couple of photos, and by noon we were on our way, satisfied customers of Metric Automotive. If you ever break down in Western Colorado, give these guys a call.

We now had a decision to make. We had to be in Las Vegas in 30 hours to meet our wives. The Navlab 5 had already broken down once during a severe mountain climb, and the route we had planned through Four Corners and the Grand Canyon included a traverse that on the map looked nearly as severe as the one from Denver. The original route was longer, and we knew we would need to drive slower. Together these factors led us to decide to stay on I-70 and head directly for Las Vegas. We returned to the sight of our previous night's breakdown and continued our journey.

During the next two hours, the terrain was barren but beautiful. Exits were few and far between - up to 50 miles apart. If this was the beaten path, we were glad we didn't take the less traveled route. During this 139.39 miles stretch, RALPH drove all but 0.91 miles (99.3% of the way).

At the end of this segment, we spied a particularly spectacular overlook, and decided to stop for some pictures. See for yourself.

It was very hot but the new alternator worked perfectly, and unlike yesterday, we rode in air-conditioned comfort. Our next stop was at Burger King/Amoco to get another Pocahontas figurine and fill up with gas. Since it was going to be a quick stop, Dean left the engine running and the keys in the ignition. Todd, in a hurry to get some food, bolted from the car, locking it on his way out. Luckily, Dean had the forethought to crack the driver's side window. We asked the gas station's auto mechanic for a sharp implement to poke the automatic door lock, and regained access.

Upon entering what we thought was the Burger King, we realized it was a glorified Quicky Mart with a Burger King booth in the back. After waiting 15 minutes for our food, we found out all they had was the Pocahontas statuette - what a disappointment as we already had her. We got her anyway, in hopes of trading her in later for a figurine we didn't have yet. We got the food to go, and before Todd had his seat belt buckled, Dean had finished his chicken sandwich. We pulled back on the highway, destined for Vegas.

We made pretty good time on this stretches of the trip, exceeding the speed limit by too many miles per hour to include in this writeup. Technically, RALPH performed quite well, ignoring the splattered bugs on the windshield, the windshield wiper fluid from the vehicle ahead (during vision-based platooning), tire debris, and specular reflections from the quickly setting sun. There were several long stretch of road without lane markings, and RALPH was able to use the tire wear marks and the road shoulder boundary to continue on. Not wanting to override RALPH during one particularly long autonomous stretch, we tested fate and ran over a rather large piece of retread. The vehicle was unharmed and RALPH continued on to a 54.65 mile uninterrupted segment.

We entered the Glitter City shortly after sunset, and headed for the airport to surprise our lovely wives, who weren't expecting us for another 21 hours.

Days 6-7-8: July 28th, 29th, 30th, 1995 Las Vegas and drive to San Diego

Driving Time: 9:00am - 1:45pm

Segment Autonomy Stats:
    Autonomous Driving Percentage:  99.8%  (322.99 / 323.5 miles)
    Longest Autonomous Segment:     59.36 miles
    Avg Speed:                      70.37 mph

Total Autonomous Stats (including Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. segment):
    Autonomous Driving Percentage:  98.2%  (2796.87 / 2849.13 miles)
    Longest Autonomous Segment:     68.98 miles
    Avg Speed:                      63.8 mph

Day 6, July 28th: We started the day off early, departing the Luxor Resort and Casino to do some sightseeing in the desert around Las Vegas. Before we left, we snapped our customary "Welcome to" photo in front of the Luxor. The person in the long pants and sweat dripping off his forehead in the picture is the esteemed director of CMU's Robotics Institute, Takeo Kanade, who joined us for the final leg of the journey.

Because we missed the second and third biggest attractions of the West, the Grand Canyon and Four Corners (Prairie Dog Town is number 1), we decided that we had to see Hoover Dam. This was the highlight of the day, besides Dean and Terry breaking even on the slot machines.

We toured the facility and then prepared for the first ever autonomous dam crossing. We fired RALPH up and it drove flawlessly across the dam. The dam had both a yellow center line and a bright red edge line, making it easy for RALPH to traverse. RALPH didn't even flinch at the 500+ foot drop to the bottom of the Black Canyon, but our wives were a little nervous. The cop crossing in the opposite direction didn't seem to notice Dean hanging out the window, flailing his arms wildly as Todd snapped several photos.

Day 7, July 29th: Today was the most important day of the trip, at least for Todd and Barb. It was their 5 year wedding anniversary and a big vow renewal ceremony was in the works - complete with a singing Elvis impersonator. Unfortunately, Elvis was too busy and expensive, so they had to settle for a simple drive thru ceremony at "A Little White Chapel." (Joan Collins and Michael Jordan were married at this chapel - not to each other ;) .) Having the ceremony at this location also had the advantage that Navlab 5 could participate in the ceremony as the best "man."

It was 115 degrees out, but the loving couple were cool in their "No Hands Across America" tshirts (Only $14 including shipping.) It was a touching ceremony, despite the fact that the soap bubble gun we puchased at Walmart to lend an air of elegance to the ceremony merely sputtered soapy water in the direction of the Bride and Groom. The festivities were capped off by the happy couple's exchange of $3.99 rings picked up at the Hoover Dam gift shop. After the ceremony RALPH chauffered the newly re-weds away, past the adult video store next door, dragging beer cans collected from the bushes around the chapel.

Day 8, July 30th: There was a mixture of sadness and joy in the air, for we knew it would be the end of Navlab 5's epic journey across America. RALPH saved the best for last. Completing the 323.5 mile journey from Las Vegas to San Diego in under 5 hours at an average speed of 70.37 mph, RALPH drove all but 0.51 miles. (99.8%) This included a 56 mile segment, ending when I-15 terminated in San Diego. RALPH wanted to continue to Tijuana, but we had reached our destination.

Day 9: July 31, 1995 San Diego to Los Angeles

We woke at 5:30am to complete the final autonomous stretch of the trip - the I-15 HOV lane going into San Diego. He had hoped to drive this 8 mile stretch on the way from Las Vegas the day before, but it was closed for the weekend. We drove the 30 miles to the entrance near Miramar AFB (Top Gun School), fired RALPH up and it performed flawlessly. Like most California freeways, the lane markings weren't very visible, since they were primarily made up of reflectors, but there was a strong edge between the concrete roadway and asphalt shoulder, was well as a distinct oil spot down the lane center. These made it easy for RALPH to drive with only a single interruption as we passed into the shadow of an overpass.

We headed north to Los Angeles, hoping to meet Jay Leno and maybe be on the show. The traffic and smog in LA were awful as we passed "Camp OJ" looking for the NBC studios. After finding the studios and the guest relations office, Todd asked to speak with our contact Helga, at the "Late Show". The receptionist informed Todd the Late Show was on CBS, but they did tape the "Tonight Show" here. She gave us the phone number and we gave Helga a call. After several tries in which she repeatedly put Todd on hold, she spoke with Jay, who was still interested in seeing the vehicle. We waited outside the Tonight Show studio for about 2 hours, until Jay came by heading for rehearsal. He said "hi guys" and walked right past us. Undaunted, we gave Helga another call, and she assured us he'd have time to meet with us during rehearsal.

About 10 minutes later, Helga came by and told us that Jay had gone out to the parking lot to look for us, but couldn't find us. Because she knew how interested he was in the vehicle, she gave us another chance. Takeo and Dean hurried out to Navlab 5 which was parked by Jay's sports car, while Todd went with Helga to get Jay. His enthusiasm was apparent, as he almost ran with Todd out to the parking lot. We gave him a quick tour, and told him what Navlab 5 had done, and he seemed quite impressed. He did say however, that he wouldn't have much use for this technology since he loves to drive so much. We gave him a tshirt, and after a few quick photos, he went back to the studio, and we went to the green room to wait for the show.

The actress who was the voice of Pocahontas in the movie was one of Jay's guests tonight and we thought we might see her while waiting. About one hour before the show was scheduled to start, she came in, escorted by her entourage. We wanted to take a picture, but thought it might not be cool since we were in the green room, where the "stars" go to relax before the show. She looked very much like the Burger King figurine that had adorned Navlab 5's dashboard since the start of the trip.

Soon after, we were escorted to our seats, which unfortunately weren't on stage. We did get to see the show, but it was clear that the real Pocahontas took precedence over our appearance.

Since we didn't have anything scheduled for the next day, we went to the nearest Mail Boxes Etc. to ship the Navlab 5 computer and electronics back to Pittsburgh. The people there were very nice, and said this was their biggest shipment since they sent a motorcycle to Germany. Everything fit in 6 boxes, and within an hour we were on our way to drop off the vehicle at a nearby hotel, where the shippers would pick it up the next day to haul it back to Pittsburgh.

As we left for the airport, it was a sad sight to see Navlab 5 sitting alone in the parking lot. It had served us faithfully for the past 9 days, driving autonomously 2800 of the 2850 miles across the country. It should get a good rest on its 2 week journey back to Pittsburgh, since it will be riding on a flatbed truck.

We learned a lot from the trip, and there are still areas we need to work on. In particular, the most frequent question we were asked during the trip was about speed control and obstacle avoidance. Over the next year we're going to address these issues, in preparation for our next trip (No Hands Across Asia?).

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