Autonomous 3D Rover With Tank Tracks Rules The Fields. Almost

Scope creep is a real pain in the real world, but for projects of passion it can have some interesting consequences. [rctestflight] was playing around with 3D printed rover gearboxes, which morphed into a 3D printed tank build.

[rctestflight]’s previous autonomous rover project had problems with the cheap geared motors, and he started experimenting with his own gearbox designs to use with lower RPM / Kv brushless drone motors. The tank came about because he wanted a simple vehicle to test his design. “Simple” went out the window pretty quickly and the final product was completely 3D printed except for the fasteners, axles, bearings, and electronics.

The tracks and gears are noisy, but it works quite well. On outdoor tests [rctestflight] did find that the tracks were prone to hooking on vines and branches, which in one case caused it to throw a track after the aluminium shaft bent. An Ardurover navigation system was added and with a 32 Ah battery was able to run autonomously for an entire day and there was surprisingly little wear on 3D printed gearbox and tracks afterward. All the STL files are up on Thingiverse, but [rctestflight] recommends waiting for an upcoming update because he discovered flaws in the design after filming the video after the break.

For a slightly more complex and expensive rover, check out our coverage of Perseverance, NASA’s MARS 2020 Rover. Continue reading “Autonomous 3D Rover With Tank Tracks Rules The Fields. Almost”

Hackaday Links: March 15, 2020

Just a few weeks ago in the Links article, we ran a story about Tanner Electronics, the Dallas-area surplus store that was a mainstay of the hacker and maker scene in the area. At the time, Tanner’s owners were actively looking for a new, downsized space to move into, and they were optimistic that they’d be able to find something. But it appears not to be, as we got word this week from James Tanner that the store would be shutting its doors after 40 years in business. We’re sad to see anyone who’s supported the hardware hacking scene be unable to make a go of it, especially after four decades of service. But as we pointed out in “The Death of Surplus”, the center of gravity of electronics manufacturing has shifted dramatically in that time, and that’s changed the surplus market forever. We wish the Tanner’s the best of luck, and ask those in the area to stop by and perhaps help them sell off some of their inventory before they close the doors on May 31.

Feel like getting your inner Gollum on video but don’t know where to begin? Open source motion capture might be the place to start, and Chordata will soon be here to help. We saw Chordata as an entry in the 2018 Hackaday Prize; they’ve come a long way since then and are just about to open up their Kickstarter. Check out the video for an overview of what Chordata can do.

Another big name in the open-source movement has been forced out of the organization he co-founded. Eric S. Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar and co-founder and former president of the Open Source Initiative has been removed from mailing lists and banned from communicating with the group. Raymond, known simply as ESR, reports that this was in response to “being too rhetorically forceful” in his dissent from proposed changes to OSD, the core documents that OSI uses to determine if software is truly open source. Nobody seems to be saying much about the behavior that started the fracas.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the newly emerged SARS-CoV-2 virus, has been spreading across the globe, causing panic and claiming lives. It’s not without its second-order effects either, of course, as everything from global supply chains to conferences and meetings have been disrupted. And now, coronavirus can be blamed for delaying the ESA/Russian joint ExoMars mission. The mission is to include a Russian-built surface platform for meteorological and biochemical surveys, plus the ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover. Program scientists are no longer able to travel and meet with their counterparts to sort out issues, severely crimping productivity and forcing the delay. Social distancing and working from home can only take you so far, especially when you’re trying to get to Mars. We wonder if NASA’s Perseverance will suffer a similar fate.

Speaking of social distancing, if you’ve already decided to lock the doors and hunker down to wait out COVID-19, you’ll need something to keep you from going stir crazy. One suggestion: learn a new skill, like PCB design. TeachMePCB is offering a free rigid PCB design course starting March 28. If you’re a newbie, or even if you’ve had some ad hoc design experience, this could be a great way to productively while away some time. And if that doesn’t work for you, check out Bartosz Ciechanowski’s Gears page. It’s an interactive lesson on why gears look like they do, and the math behind power transmission. Ever wonder why gear teeth have an involute shape? Bartosz will fix you up.

Stay safe out there, everyone. And wash those hands!

Rover Runs Slow And Steady On Solar Power

The solar panel technology we have available today doesn’t really lend itself to practical everyday transport. But when speed isn’t a concern, it can make for some very interesting autonomous rovers. One example of this is [Daniel Riley] aka [rctestflight]’s solar powered rover, which he built to live autonomously at his flight testing field, crawling around whenever it has gathered enough juice from the sun.

[Daniel] has thing for autonomous craft of all types, with quite a few aircraft and boats to his name. This rover is built around a welded steel frame, with each wheel driven by a brushless geared motors via a chain. While it’s technically a skid steer, the electronic speed controls are from a quadcopter and can’t reverse, so it doesn’t turn quite on the spot.

With the rigid steel frame, any small bump in the ground would cause one wheel to lose traction. To fix this, the frame was cut in two and a pivot added in the center, allowing all four wheels to always remain on the ground. Another problem is that the wheels would sometimes dig themselves into the soft wet ground, so this, [Daniel] attached a 3D printed “hump” to each drive wheel, which helps them to climb out of any soft spots. For the next version of this rover, [Daniel] plans to use cheap DC geared motors from a Barbie jeep. They’re a bit too fast though, so he’ll be adding 3D printed cycloidal reduction gearboxes. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing here this project goes from here.

There have been a number of projects to test solar powered robots for agricultural use. We really like the idea, with its potential for long duration missions. Imagine something like this roaming the Black Rock playa in the US, the Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana, or even the Sahara Desert, while gathering environmental data and making awesome time-lapse videos.

ESP32 Rover With PCB Chassis Is Ready To Roll

The microcontrollers are cheap, the sensors are cheap, even the motors are cheap. So why are all the good wheeled robotics platforms so expensive? [Dimitris Platis] wanted to develop an affordable platform for experimenting with rovers, but the cheap plastic chassis he was using gave him all sorts of problems. So he did what any good hacker would do, and built a better version himself.

Interestingly, [Dimitris] decided to go with a chassis made from two PCB panels. The motors, mounted to small angled brackets, bolt directly to the lower PCB. These aren’t your standard $2 DC cans either. Each JGB37-520 gearhead motor comes complete with an encoder that allows your software to determine speed, distance, and direction. The upper PCB connects to the lower with several rows of pin headers, and plays host to whatever electronics payload you might be experimenting with at the time.

For the controller, [Dimitris] says the ESP32 is hard to beat by pretty much any metric you want to use. With integrated wireless and considerable computational power, there’s plenty of options for controlling your little rover either remotely or autonomously. But he also says that every effort has been made to ensure that you could switch out the microcontroller with something else should you want to spin up a customized version.

The whole idea reminds us a bit of quadcopters we’ve seen in the past, where the PCB wasn’t just being used structurally as a place to bolt the motors and hardware to, but actually contained functional traces and components that reduced how much wiring you needed to do. Naturally, this means that any damage to the chassis might cripple the electronics, but presumably, that’s what the big foam bumpers are there for.

[Dimitris] designed this project for educational use, so he assumes you’ll want to build 10 or 12 of these for your whole classroom. In those quantities, he says each bot will cost around $60. If you wanted to reduce the price a bit more, he says swapping the motors would be your best bet as they’re the single most expensive component of the design. That said, $60 for a quality open source rover platform sounds pretty fair to us.

Still too much? You could check out one of the 3D printable rover designs we’ve covered over the years. Or see if you can get lucky and pick up a cheap robot from the clearance rack and hack it.

Faux Cow Munches Faux Grass On A Faux Roomba

Out in the countryside, having a cow or to two wouldn’t be a big deal. You can have a cattle shed full of them, and no one will bat an eyelid. But what if you’re living in the big city and have no need of pet dogs or cats, but a pet cow. It wouldn’t be easy getting it to ride in the elevator, and you’d have a high chance of being very, very unpopular in the neighbourhood. [Dane & Nicole], aka [8 Bits and a Byte] were undaunted though, and built the Moomba – the Cow Roomba to keep them company in their small city apartment.

The main platform is built from a few pieces of lumber and since it needs to look like a Roomba, cut in a circular shape. Locomotion comes from two DC geared motors, and a third swivel free wheel, all attached directly to the wooden frame. The motors get their 12V juice from eight “AA” batteries. The free range bovine also needs some smarts to allow it to roam at will. For this, it uses a Raspberry Pi powered by a power bank. The Pi drives a 2-channel relay board which controls the voltage applied to the two motors. Unfortunately, this prevents the Moomba from backing out if it gets stuck at a dead end. For anyone else trying to build this it should be easy enough to fix with an electronic speed controller or even by adding a second 2-channel relay board which can reverse the voltage applied to the motors. The Moomba needs to “Moo” when it feels like, so the Raspberry Pi streams a prerecorded mp3 audio clip to a pair of USB speakers.

If you see the video after the break, you’ll notice that making the Moomba sentient is a simple matter of doing “ctrl+C” and “ctrl+V” and you’re good to go. The python code is straight forward, doing one of four actions – move forward, turn left, turn right or play audio. The code picks a random number from 0 to 3, and then performs the action associated with that number. Finally, as an added bonus, the Moomba gets a lush carpet of artificial green grass and it’s free to roam the range.

At first sight, many may quip “where’s the hack” ? But simple, easy to execute projects like these are ideal for getting younglings started down the path to hacking, with adult supervision. The final result may appear frivolous, but it’ll excite young minds as they learn from watching.

Continue reading “Faux Cow Munches Faux Grass On A Faux Roomba”

India’s Moon Mission Is Far From Over

India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon was, in a word, ambitious. Lifting off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on July 22nd, the mission hoped to simultaneously deliver an orbiter, lander, and rover to our nearest celestial neighbor. The launch and flight to the Moon went off without a hitch, and while there were certainly some tense moments, the spacecraft ultimately put itself into a stable lunar orbit and released the free-flying lander so it could set off on its independent mission.

Unfortunately, just seconds before the Vikram lander touched down, an anomaly occurred. At this point the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) still doesn’t know exactly what happened, but based on the live telemetry stream from the lander, some have theorized the craft started tumbling or otherwise became unstable between three and four kilometers above the surface.

Telemetry indicates a suboptimal landing orientation

In fact, for a brief moment the telemetry display actually showed the Vikram lander completely inverted, with engines seemingly accelerating the spacecraft towards the surface of the Moon. It’s unclear whether this was an accurate depiction of the lander’s orientation in the final moments before impact or a glitch in the real-time display, but it’s certainly not what you want to see when your craft is just seconds away from touchdown.

But for Chandrayaan-2, the story doesn’t end here. The bulk of the mission’s scientific goals were always to be accomplished by the orbiter itself. There were of course a number of scientific payloads aboard the Vikram lander, and even the Pragyan rover that it was carrying down to the surface, but they were always secondary objectives at best. The ISRO was well aware of the difficulties involved in making a soft landing on the Moon, and planned their mission objectives accordingly.

Rather than feel sorrow over the presumed destruction of Vikram and Pragyan, let’s take a look at the scientific hardware aboard the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, and the long mission that still lies ahead of it.

Continue reading “India’s Moon Mission Is Far From Over”

A 4G Rover And The Benefits Of A Shakedown Mission

Many moons ago, in the shadowy darkness of the 1990s, a young Lewin visited his elder cousin. An adept AMOS programmer, he had managed to get his Amiga 500 to control an RC car, with little more than a large pile of relays and guile. Everything worked well, but there was just one problem — once the car left the room, there was no way to see what was going on.

Why don’t you put a camera on it? Then you can drive it anywhere!

Lewin

This would go on to inspire the TKIRV project approximately 20 years later. The goal of the project is to build a rover outfitted with a camera, which is controllable over cellular data networks from anywhere on Earth. For its upcoming major expedition, the vehicle is to receive solar panels to enable it to remain operable in distant lands for extended periods without having to return to base to recharge.

The project continues to inch towards this goal, but as the rover nears completion, the temptation to take it out for a spin grew ever greater. What initially began as an exciting jaunt actually netted plenty of useful knowledge for the rover’s further development.

Continue reading “A 4G Rover And The Benefits Of A Shakedown Mission”