Once upon a time, NASA-JPL put out a design for an open-source rocker-bogie rover. It was an impressive and capable thing, albeit a little expensive and difficult to build. Now, the open source community has dived in and refreshed the design, making it cheaper and more accessible than ever before.
Many parts of the original design have either become prohibitively expensive, gone out of stock, or been discontinued entirely. The new version, developed by the community that formed around the project, focuses on using off-the-shelf parts to bring costs down. Where the original design could cost as much as $3000 to build, the new model slashes that bill almost in half. It also eliminates any need for anything custom fabricated, with no machined or 3D printed parts required.
Other optimizations include cutting the rover’s head out from the basic model, as it’s not necessary for a great deal of applications. There is also better fluid and dust ingress protection, and improved serviceability. The entire rover model can also be loaded in OnShape for those desiring to inspect it or make their own modifications.
Parts lists are on GitHub for those desiring to build their own. Alternatively, check out the original design to learn more. Video after the break.
Continue reading “Open Source Rover Gets An Update For Easier Building”
When navigating the vast and unpredictable expanses of outer space, particularly on the alien terrains of distant planets, smart engineering often underlies every major achievement. A paramount example of this is the rocker bogie suspension system. It’s an integral component of NASA’s Mars rovers and has become an iconic feature in its own right. Its success has seen the design adopted by the Indian space program and thousands of hobbyists in turn.
So, what exactly is it that makes rocker bogie suspension such a compelling design solution? Let’s dive into the engineering that makes these six-wheeled wonders so special.
Continue reading “Rocker Bogie Suspension: The Beloved Solution To Extra-Planetary Rovers”
Good news this week from Mars, where Ingenuity finally managed to check in with its controllers after a long silence. The plucky helicopter went silent just after nailing the landing on its 52nd flight back on April 26, and hasn’t been heard from since. Mission planners speculated that Ingenuity, which needs to link to the Perseverance rover to transmit its data, landed in a place where terrain features were blocking line-of-sight between the two. So they weren’t overly concerned about the blackout, but still, one likes to keep in touch with such an irreplaceable asset. The silence was broken last week when Perseverance finally made it to higher ground, allowing the helicopter to link up and dump the data from the last flight. The goal going forward is to keep Ingenuity moving ahead of the rover, acting as a scout for interesting places to explore, which makes it possible that we’ll see more comms blackouts. Ingenuity may be more than ten-fold over the number of flights that were planned, but that doesn’t mean it’s ready for retirement quite yet.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: July 9, 2023”
When you think of NASA, you think of high-stakes, high-cost, high-pressure engineering, and maybe the accompanying red tape. In comparison, the hobby hacker has a tremendous latitude to mess up, dream big, and generally follow one’s bliss. Hopefully you’ll take some notes. And as always with polar extremes, the really fertile ground lies in the middle.
[Dan Maloney] and I were thinking about this yesterday while discussing the 50th flight of Ingenuity, the Mars helicopter. Ingenuity is a tech demo, carrying nothing mission critical, but just trying to figure out if you could fly around on Mars. It was planned to run for five flights, and now it’s done 50.
The last big tech demo was the Sojourner Rover. It was a small robotic vehicle the size of a microwave oven that they hoped would last seven days. It went for 85, and it gave NASA the first taste of success it needed to follow on with 20 years of Martian rovers.
Both of these projects were cheap, by NASA standards, and because they were technical demonstrators, the development teams were allowed significantly more design freedom, again by NASA standards.
None of this compares to the “heck I’ll just hot-air an op-amp off an old project” of weekend hacking around here, but I absolutely believe that a part of the tremendous success of both Sojourner and Ingenuity were due to the risks that the development teams were allowed to take. Creativity and successful design thrives on the right blend of constraint and freedom.
Will Ingenuity give birth to a long series of flying planetary rovers as Sojourner did for her rocker-bogie based descendants? Too early to tell. But I certainly hope that someone within NASA is noticing the high impact that these technical demonstrator projects have, and also noting why. The addition of a little bit of hacker spirit to match NASA’s professionalism probably goes a long way.
When it comes to cryptocurrency security, what’s the best way to secure the private key? Obviously, the correct answer is to write it on a sticky note and put it on the bezel of your monitor; nobody’ll ever think of looking there. But, if you’re slightly more paranoid, and you have access to a Falcon 9, you might just choose to send it to the Moon. That’s what is supposed to happen in a few months’ time, as private firm Lunar Outpost’s MAPP, or Mobile Autonomous Prospecting Platform, heads to the Moon. The goal is to etch the private key of a wallet, cheekily named “Nakamoto_1,” on the rover and fund it with 62 Bitcoins, worth about $1.5 million now. The wallet will be funded by an NFT sale of space-themed electronic art, because apparently the project didn’t have enough Web3.0 buzzwords yet. So whoever visits the lunar rover first gets to claim the contents of the wallet, whatever they happen to be worth at the time. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a human who visits.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: April 9, 2023”
Typically, when you’re putting electronics in a robot, you install the various controller PCBs into the robot’s chassis. But what if the PCB itself was the chassis? [Carl Bugeja’s] latest design explores just that idea.
Yes, [Carl] decided to build a tiny robotic rover out of a foldable PCB. This choice was made as using a flexible foldable PCB would allow for the creation of a 3D chassis without the need for bulky connectors joining several boards together. A key part of the design was allowing the structure to unfold easily for serviceability’s sake. To that end, the structure is held together by the bolts that also act as the axles for the rover’s wheels. Even more brilliantly, the wheels are turned by motors built into the very PCB itself. Control is via a PlayStation controller, connected wirelessly to command the robot.
The little bot is surprisingly capable, especially when juiced up with a twin-cell lithium battery. It’s tiny, with minimal ground clearance, so it’s not the best at driving on rough surfaces. Having all-wheel-drive helps, though.
[Carl] specifically credits Altium Designer for making the design possible, thanks to its advanced 3D visualization tools that support foldable PCBs. Video after the break.
Continue reading “Foldable PCB Becomes Tiny Rover”
You’ve got to hand it to [Carl Bugeja] — he comes up with some of the most interesting electromechanical designs we’ve seen. His latest project is right up there, too: a single PCB that folds up into a four-wheel motorized rover.
The key to [Carl]’s design lies with his PCB brushless motors, which he has been refining since we first spotted them back in 2018. The idea is to use traces on the PCB for the stator coils to drive a 3D printed rotor containing tiny magnets. They work surprisingly well, even if they don’t generate a huge amount of torque. [Carl]’s flexible PCB design, which incorporates metal stiffeners, is a bit like an unfolded cardboard box, with two pairs of motor coils on each of the side panels. This leaves the other surfaces available for all the electronics, with includes a PIC, a driver chip, and a Hall sensor for each motor, an IMU and proximity sensor for navigation, and an ESP32 to run the show.
With machined aluminum rotors and TPU tires mounted to the folded-up chassis, it was off to the races, albeit slowly. The lack of torque from the motors and the light weight of the rover, along with some unwanted friction due to ill-fitting joints, added up to slow progress, especially on anything other than a dead flat surface. But with some tweaking, [Carl] was able to get the buggy working well enough to call this one a win. Check out the build and testing in the video below.
Knowing [Carl], this isn’t the last we’ll see of the foldable rover. After all, he stuck with his two-wheel PCB motor design and eventually got that running pretty well. We’ll be keeping an eye out for progress on this one.
Continue reading “Single Flex PCB Folds Into A Four-Wheel Rover, Complete With Motors”