The DARPA Urban Challenge is the third installment in an ongoing annual contest, spearheaded by the U.S. military, to tackle what seems a highly intractable problem – to set a completely autonomous robot car loose in the real world, navigating real roads, obeying real traffic laws, and negotiating real traffic. The progress has been astonishing. The finals are 03-Nov-07; the qualifying events, however, were held last weekend, and my friend John, who runs a fairly cantankerous blog dealing with politics, environment, social issues, motor vehicles, and whatever else interests him, took me along to the rather eerie semi-abandoned military base out in the High Desert north of Los Angeles, where the event is being held this year, to get a first-hand look.
John and I gawked at the computer equipment in each car and the various laser, radar, and camera sensors with which each one is festooned. We took a few still photos and asked a lot of questions, and saw parts of two events (called “Course A” and “Course B”) in which the cars demonstrated that they could do things like stop at a stop sign and watch for traffic to pass before turning left. When we got home, I had several 60 MB movies in my digital camera. I had no difficulty compressing them and posting them so John could review them, but it turned out that (1) he wanted to hand them over to YouTube, and (2) he wanted them “watermarked” with his blog’s Web address. Specifically, he wanted me to overlay “jawfish.net” in a corner of the entirety of these movies.
I’m not much of a video hand, and I soon realized, rummaging through the software on my computer, that I had no idea how to do what he was asking for. The likeliest candidate would seem to be iMovie, but to my amazement, although it would superimpose text (a “title”) on the video, it wouldn’t do it for longer than about 5 seconds. That wasn’t going to be very satisfactory for several 2-minute movies.
At that point, I remembered that I had two computers and that the other computer, my Leopard machine, had iLife ’08 with its version of iMovie. I had never used iMovie ’08, though, and I wasn’t really feeling up for some kind of steep learning curve. With some trepidation, therefore, I fired up iMovie ’08 for the first time.
I needn’t have worried. It was astoundingly easy to use! There was a File > Import Movies menu item, so I was able to hand my movies over more or less instantly to iMovie. I got something of a surprise when I saw my movies represented as “events”, each of which was apparently broken into short segments. But it soon turned out that this was merely conceptual. The movie wasn’t really broken up – rather, I was being shown the movie as a series of thumbnails as a convenience, so that I could find my place within it. Since I didn’t need to find my place within it (I just wanted to operate on the movie as a whole), I moved a slider which reduced the representation of the entire movie to a single thumbnail.
Next, I realized that I had to draw a distinction between “events” and “projects”. An “event” was something I’d imported; a “project” was an assemblage of material to be exported. iMovie ’08 lets you manage multiple projects simultaneously. In my case, each event was its own project; so I created four projects, and dragged one event into each.
Now came the moment of truth: would iMovie ’08 let me apply a title for the duration of a project? It sure would! I switched to the Titles pane and dragged a title onto my first project, and presto, text was overlaid onto the entire movie. I was able to edit the text, font, size, color, style, and alignment of the text right in the movie preview, just as in a word processor. To top it all off, I added some color adjustments to the movie, just as I might have done in iPhoto, enriching the saturation slightly. That took about two seconds, and presto, I was finished!
Sure, this was a pretty simple task. I didn’t do any editing of the movie in the traditional sense, constructing it out of clips, inserting transitions, adding music, or anything like that. But my point is that I came in as a complete newbie with a task in mind, and understood pretty darned quickly how to do it. iMovie ’08 really does present a paradigm that’s easy to use. Of course, as I was waiting for my movies to export in compressed form, so that I could post them for John to grab and upload to YouTube, it completely escaped my notice that iMovie ’08 has a Share > YouTube button so that I could have uploaded the movies myself, directly. But I think his blog entry on the Urban Challenge turned out pretty well in spite of all that – YouTube movies and all.