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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Curiosity landed, here’s the LEGO version

The Mars Science Laboratory hasn’t had her wheels down for a day and already the Curiosity-inspired builds are rolling in. [Will] and [Doug] built a LEGO model of the Curiosity rover for the Build the Future in Space event at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Everything on this scaled-down version of Curiosity is completely made out of LEGO, including the four powered wheels, motorized mast, and articulated, controllable arm.

The LEGO rover contains 7 NTX bricks, 13 motors, two power function motors, and over 1000 pieces of LEGO held together without any glue. The rover is under remote control from two operators. The driver controls the rotation and direction of the four powered corner wheels, while another operator uses a Waldo-like manipulator built out of LEGO to move Curiosity‘s mast and arm. Each of these controls communicate with the rover over a Bluetooth connection.

We’ve been wondering when we would see a Curiosity-inspired rocker bogie bot, and we’re pleased as punch the first one just happened to be a LEGO build. Having [Will] and [Doug] time their submission to the Curiosity’s landing on Mars is the icing on the cake.

You can see the LEGO Curiosity in action after the break.

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