Have you ever dreamed of building a rover that drives over the huge deserts and rocky hills of mars? Well, try to get the best technical education you can, apply for a job at NASA or ESA and hope to be lucky enough to get into one of the very, very rare space programs to send a rover to an alien world. Or just build your own rover for not more than 750 Euros!
To be fair – this rover will never make it to mars since we have no rocket capable of delivering even just a few kilos of payload to our neighboring planet, we also miss a cruise stage and last but not least a landing module to get us save on the ground. The hardest part for any Mars lander or rover is to get there - preferably in one piece.
Even if we could reach Mars our rover would probably just work for a few seconds, before the cold, the almost vacuum and the harsh radiation would end its life. Our WIFI connection would hardly be able to gap the up to 350.000.000 km between earth and mars. Building a rover for mars is a very complex endeavor, it needs a huge amount of engineering capabilities and money, NASAs Curiosity mission cost 2.5 Billion USD.
But if we stay on earth and just imagine to be on Mars, we can try to solve the 6 main problems a real Mars rover development team would encounter: (1) Build an off-road vehicle with (2) semi- autonomous navigation, which is (3) able to recognize its environment and (4) to gain some data about it. Make sure that it can (5) share the data with a remote operator who is able to (6) send instructions to the rover. These capabilities are key to any real rover mission on a foreign planet.
DO IT STEP BY STEP
For all those interested in developing this kind of an “earth– bound Mars rover”, I will provide my ideas, plans and technical solutions as well as source code for the programming of the onboard computers in a step-by-step tutorial. Keep in mind that this is project is still “work in progress” with no guaranty that my proposed solution will really work. Feel free to use whatever you want for your own rover project.
The goal is to develop and build a rover that not only looks like a real Mars rover but also has the capability to drive around in a semi-autonomous mode and to recognize its environment with a camera and ultrasonic sensors. Furthermore the rover should be able to collect environmental information (e.g. soil humidity) like any real space rover does. There needs to be a remote interface to a control station (e.g. a mobile phone or a laptop) which will enable an operator to send commands to the rover as well as to receive data from our little explorer – like images from the mast camera, environmental information from sensors and status information from the rover.
AN INTELLIGENT ROVER FOR 750 EUROS?
Is this really possible for 750 Euros? Well, I think so! We will use cheap material like plywood for the body and PVC tubes for the running gear, the engines will be off-the-shelf products as well as the entire electronics and sensor package (using Arduino and Raspberry boards as main computing elements). Not included in this cost estimation are computers needed for the programming work and the tooling required to build the hardware.
THE REAL MARS ROVER
Our rover is a ~ 1/4 model of NASAs Curiosity rover.
You can find tons of information about this mission in the Word Wide Web, I just want to recommend one particular clip about the EDL sequence - or what NASA calls "The seven minutes of terror":
STEP BY STEP DEVELOPMENT...
Building a rover is a long term project. Some of the steps are already done, some are just ideas or concepts. Please note that the steps and their order may change.
STEPS ALREADY COMPLETED
- STEP 1: WE NEED A CONCEPT
- STEP 2: BUILDING THE MAIN BODY
- STEP 3: BUILDING THE UNDERCARRIAGE STRUCTURE
- STEP 4: COMPUTER PINOUTS (PROPOSAL)
- STEP 5: FIRST MOTOR TEST
- STEP 6: MOUNT MOTORS AND WHEELS
- STEP 7: SWITCH TO INTERNAL POWER
- STEP 8: START THE ENGINES - FIRST DRIVE TEST
- STEP 9: MEET AND GREET WITH OUR MAIN COMPUTER
- STEP 10: VIEW TO THE WORLD - TESTING THE CAMERA
- STEP 11: ESTABLISHING A WIFI CONNECTION
- STEP 12: DATA EXCHANGE WITH MQTT
- STEP 13: SOFTWARE SIMULATION RUN
- FIRST REMOTE OPERATION TEST
- BUILDING A CAMERA MAST
- OPERATING THE CAMERA
- NEAR OBSTACLE DETECTION
- CALIBRATING THE ULTRASONIC SENSORS
- BUILDING THE ROBOTIC ARM
- TESTING THE ROBOTIC ARM
- HI RASPBERRY, YOU'RE PILOT IN COMMAND
- WHERE A WE? HOLY ODOMETRY - PLEASE HELP!
- IDENTIFYING REMOTE OBSTACLES
- BUILDING A VIRTUAL MAP
- ROAMING ON AN ALIEN WORLD
- WE ARE ON MARS!
NEED MORE ADVISE?
If you want additional information - please check this NASA video "How to build a Mars rover".