ExoMy Is A Miniature European Mars Rover With A Friendly Face

Over the past few weeks, a new season of Mars fever kicked off with launches of three interplanetary missions. And since there’s a sizable overlap between fans of spaceflight and those of electronics and 3D printing, the European Space Agency released the ExoMy rover for those who want to experience a little bit of Mars from home.

ExoMy’s smiling face and cartoonish proportions are an adaptation of ESA’s Rosalind Franklin (formerly the ExoMars) rover which, if 2020 hadn’t turned out to be 2020, would have been on its way to Mars as well. While Rosalind Franklin must wait for the next Mars launch window, we can launch ExoMy missions to our homes now. Like the real ESA rover, ExoMy has a triple bogie suspension design distinctly different from the rocker-bogie design used by NASA JPL’s rover family. Steering all six wheels rather than just four, ExoMy has maneuvering chops visible in a short Instagram video clip (also embedded after the break).

ExoMy’s quoted price of admission is in the range of 250-500€. Perusing instructions posted on GitHub, we see an electronics nervous system built around a Raspberry Pi. Its published software stack is configured for human remote control, but as it is already running ROS (Robot Operating System), it should be an easy on-ramp for ExoMars builders with the ambition of adding autonomy.

ExoMy joins the ranks of open source rover designs available to hackers with 3D printing, electronics, and software skills. We recently covered a much larger rover project modeled after Curiosity. Two years ago NASA JPL released an open source rover of their own targeting educators, inspiring this writer’s own Sawppy rover project, which is in turn just one of many projects tagged “Rover” on Hackaday.io. Hackers love rovers!


Student Rover Explores The Backyard In Tribute

Three students were a little sad when NASA’s Opportunity rover went silent after 15 years on the Martian surface. So they decided to build their own rover inspired by Opportunity to roam their backyards using an off-the-shelf robot chassis, a Raspberry Pi, and the usual list of parts like motors, H-bridges, and batteries.

Like the real rover, the vehicle uses a rocker-bogie system, although it is a little less complex than the version NASA sent blasting off towards the Red Planet. The plucky vehicle comes complete with miniature solar panels to recharge its onboard battery, courtesy of some dollar-store garden lights. A pair of videos after the break show how the rover is controlled, as well as the view sent back from its onboard camera.

The rover ran a simulated Mars mission as part of a school project where it had to find an object and transmit an image of it back to home base, and by the looks of it, is was a rousing success. But the young explorers aren’t resting on their laurels, and are already working on a second version of their exploration vehicle that can operate in inclement weather and includes some new tools such as a robotic arm and infrared illumination for low-light imaging.

We’ve seen plenty of Mars rover clones in the past, but there’s always room for more. Of course, if you’re looking for something a bit easier to start with, you can always go the LEGO route.

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Window In The Skies: Why Everyone Is Going To Mars This Month

Mars may not be the kind of place to raise your kids, but chances are that one day [Elton John]’s famous lyrics will be wrong about there being no one there to raise them. For now, however, we have probes, orbiters, and landers. Mars missions are going strong this year, with three nations about to launch their rockets towards the Red Planet: the United States sending their Perseverance rover, China’s Tianwen-1 mission, and the United Arab Emirates sending their Hope orbiter.

As all of this is planned to happen still within the month of July, it almost gives the impression of a new era of wild space races where everyone tries to be first. Sure, some egos will certainly be boosted here, but the reason for this increased run within such a short time frame has a simple explanation: Mars will be right around the corner later this year — relatively speaking — providing an ideal opportunity to travel there right now.

In fact, this year is as good as it gets for quite a while. The next time the circumstances will be (almost) as favorable as this year is going to be in 2033, so it’s understandable that space agencies are eager to not miss out on this chance. Not that Mars missions couldn’t be accomplished in the next 13 years — after all, several endeavors are already in the wings for 2022, including the delayed Rosalind Franklin rover launch. It’s just that the circumstances won’t be as ideal.

But what exactly does that mean, and why is that? What makes July 2020 so special? And what’s everyone doing up there anyway? Well, let’s find out!

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Getting To Space Is Even Harder During A Pandemic

At this point, most of us are painfully aware of the restrictions that COVID-19 social distancing protocols have put on our daily lives. Anyone who can is working from home, major events are canceled, non-essential businesses are closed, and travel is either strongly discouraged or prohibited outright. In particularly hard hit areas, life and commerce has nearly ground to a halt with no clear end date in sight.

Naturally, there are far reaching consequences for this shutdown beyond what’s happening on the individual level. Large scale projects are also being slowed or halted entirely, as there’s only so much you can do remotely. That’s especially true when the assembly of hardware is concerned, which has put some industries in a particularly tight spot. One sector that’s really feeling the strain is aerospace. Around the world, space agencies are finding that their best laid plans are suddenly falling apart in the face of COVID-19.

In some cases it’s a minor annoyance, requiring nothing more than some tweaks to procedures. But when the movements of the planets are concerned, a delay of weeks or months changes everything. While things are still changing too rapidly to make an exhaustive list, we already know of a few missions that are being impacted in these uncertain times.

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Hackaday Podcast 055: The Most Cyberpunk Synthesizer, Data In Your Cells, Bubbly In Your Printer, And The Dystopian Peepshow

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams discuss the many great hacks of the past week. Just in case you missed the fact that we’re living in the cyberpunk future, you can now pop off your prosthetic hand and jack directly into a synthesizer. The robot headed for Mars has a flying drone in its belly. Now they’re putting foaming agent in filament to make it light and flexible. And did you ever wonder why those pinouts were so jumbled?

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~60 MB)

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Six Wheels (En)rolling: Mars Rovers Going To School

Few things build excitement like going to space. It captures the imagination of young and old alike. Teachers love to leverage the latest space news to raise interest in their students, and space agencies are happy to provide resources to help. The latest in a long line of educator resources released by NASA is an Open Source Rover designed at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

JPL is the birthplace of Mars rovers Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity. They’ve been researching robotic explorers for decades, so it’s no surprise they have many rovers running around. The open source rover’s direct predecessor is ROV-E, whose construction process closely followed procedures for engineering space flight hardware. This gave a team of early career engineers experience in the process before they built equipment destined for space. In addition to learning various roles within a team, they also learned to work with JPL resources like submitting orders to the machine shop to make ROV-E parts.

Once completed, ROV-E became a fixture at JPL public events and occasionally visits nearby schools as part of educational outreach programs. And inevitably a teacher at the school would ask “The kids love ROV-E! Can we make our own rover?” Since most schools don’t have 5-axis CNC machines or autoclaves to cure carbon fiber composites, the answer used to be “No.”

Until now.

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Simple Step-Climbing Robot Climbs Like It’s On Mars

[Navin Khambhala] is a master at making simple what most would expect to be a complex build. Now he’s done it again with a remote controlled robot that can easily climb steps and role over rough terrain. The parts count is small and many of them are commonly available.

The suspension that makes it all possible is the rocker-bogie. It’s the same suspension we’ve all seen used by the various rovers ambling around on Mars. The whole frame is made of PVC pipes with some connecting metal bars, and each wheel has its own twelve-volt DC motor. Motor control is done simply with a module that combines the 2.4 GHz receiver with motor controllers. When you watch the video below, note where only one hole is drilled through the PVC for making connections instead of two holes. Where there’s only one hole, the two sections of PVC are free to rotate independently of each other. Turning the robot is done by rotating the wheels on one side in one direction and the wheels on the other side in the opposite direction. This is called a differential drive or tank drive, and we’ve highlighted it before for use in making hamster-drive type BB-8 droids.

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