Parent’s Guide to Designing and Building a Self-Driving Car with Their Kids – Part 3

“It’s not the destination, it’s the Journey…” 

I suspect building a full-size self-driving car seems like a momentous task – and it is.  But a few things we have going for us.  As I stated in my previous blog, autonomous (self-driving) cars have a lot of the STEM aspects you want to instill in your child – math, science, electronics, and technology.  So even if you don’t finish this, those subjects will take your child far.

A few things I would recommend is building a design for you car.  The cheapest way of designing anything is using a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software.  For me, this is Autodesk® AutoCAD® 2017.  It’s a great software package, but a little on the pricey side.  There are also plenty of open source CAD software packages available.  The nice thing about AutoCAD is that i comes with an add-on called Autodesk EAGLE, which is a electronics schematic design tool.  Inevitably, there will be some electronic circuits required to build the prototype and eventually the actual car, so having an electronics design tool will be very helpful.

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Autodesk EAGLE, a electronics design tool

I alluded this earlier in one of my blogs, but you will want to build a prototype that makes it easier for kids to learn about the curriculum and about the subject matter involved. A prototype has a smaller budget an can be a much smaller than the eventual final product.  In my case I took apart one of my child’s toys and hooked it up to a RaspberryPi and Arduino (see Part 2 for more info).

Having a cash budget and setting design limitations on the car will take out a some of the risk of a venture such as this.  For instance, our stated goal was to create a car that would not have an occupant riding inside of it, nor would it be on any public roads. This would not require us to get specific permits or spend heavily on safety features of the car. Before building anything large, my recommendation is to have the following:

  1. A budget.  My budget is going to be around $15,000 adjusted for inflation.
  2. A goal statement or what you want to achieve that makes the project a successful learning experience.
  3. design goals.  The must haves to achieve the goal you want.
  4. If you want to get really crazy, an actual project plan.

We actually plan to create multiple prototypes, as our skills increase, so will the quality and “coolness” of our design.  This RC car we plan to use for our second prototype:

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The body of the prototype II car will a Porsche.  Prototype I is almost done 🙂 !

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The internal frame of prototype II car.  Once completed, it will have cameras, computers, and motors.  There will be other devices as well to help with autonomy.

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