Inner Geek: Fast Cars, Fast Physics
I love building stuff. I've been building stuff (and taking it apart) since I was a kid. Back in 2000 I got the chance to build my ultimate toy: a Caterham Seven sports car. After taking it to a race track a couple of times, I began to wonder:
Initially, I just planned on recording the 'lateral' (side-to-side) and 'longitudinal' (front-to-back) acceleration using one of the new micro-miniature 'MEMS' accelerometers that had just come onto the market. However, like most projects, it seemed to take on a life of its own and I spent the next four years tinkering and adding capabilities until eventually I was measuring wheel speeds, engine RPM, and recording the data on a purpose-built solid-state disk.
All this involved designing and making several printed circuit boards, wheel rotation sensors, and learning Z80 assembly language for the micro-controller I was using.
I also added the ability to superimpose the data onto a live video feed from an in-car camera, so the data could be matched up with what I was doing on the track.
Of course, once you have the data, that's when the real fun begins. I wrote special software to analyze the data and make lots of pretty graphs.
Now, I'm not sure any of this made me a better driver, but I do know it's definitely been a lot of fun. I also now know much more about the physics of racing cars, and learning is what life is all about, right?
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