Don't Fix It In Software

Presented at DEF CON 19 (2011), Aug. 7, 2011, 3 p.m. (50 minutes)

At Defcon 17 when a speaker didn't show a bottle of vodka was offered to whoever gave an impromptu talk. Somebody went up and talked about his robot project. He mentioned that it didn't normally drive straight, and talked about all the software solutions he had tried to fix this. I was reasonably intoxicated and wound up shouting at him over the crowd that it did not drive straight because of his drive base design, and not his software. This led to questions, which eventually led to a rant about all of the dumb things people who are brilliant at in software do wrong in hardware, and then try to fix using more software. Sadly a scoundrel absconded with my vodka, but a goon took me aside, said the information was great, and told me to submit it as a full talk. Now I am. This talk will cover material assuming the average audience member is a relatively intelligent coder with a high-school physics/math background and has seen linear algebra / calculus before. The intent is to navigate people new to robotics around many lessons my teams and I learned the "hard way," and to give them all the words to look up in wikipedia to help bridge the gap between amateur and novice professional robotics. It will not cover why your Arduino doesn't work when you plugged your USB tx into your RS232 tx.


  • Katy Levinson - Director, Hacker Dojo
    Katy Levinson Katy worked as the Software Lead on the Lunar Micro Rover project at NASA Ames. This work earned her Best Team Lead for the Ames Robotics Academy. The portions of her work done while completing her Bachelor's in Computer Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute won her WPI's Honorable Mention for her Major Qualifying Project. She has been a team member for four competitive seasons of FIRST Robotics, mentored an additional one, helped found five more and mentored them through a full competitive season, earning her a Recognition Award from the Worcester Public Schools and a Team Mentorship Award from the Washington State FLL for her work mentoring students. She co-founded a robotics science camp at 16. She is now a software engineer at Google and a director at the Hacker Dojo, a hackerspace in Mountain View, California. @katylevinson