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Old 10-02-10, 07:30 AM   #1
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Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 55,008
Post 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:

  • What performance I was actually getting?
  • Exactly how fast was I going?
  • How many 'G's was I pulling going round corners?
  • How much power was being delivered to the wheels?
....and that was how my data-logger project began.

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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