Martian Wheel Control Algorithms Gain Traction

Imagine the scene: You’re puttering along in your vehicle when, at least an hour from the nearest help, one of your tires starts losing air. Not to worry! You’ve got a spare tire along with the tools and knowhow to change it. And if that fails, you can call roadside assistance. But what if your car isn’t a car, has metal wheels for which no spares are available, and the nearest help is 200 million miles away? You just might be a Jet Propulsion Laboratory Engineer on the Curiosity Mars Rover mission, who in 2017 was charged with creating a new driving algorithm designed to extend the life of the wheels.

High Performance Rock Crawler, Courtesy License: CC BY 3.0

You could say that the Curiosity Mars rover is the ultimate off-road vehicle, and as such it has to deal with conditions that are in some ways not that different from some locations here on Earth. Earth bound rock crawlers use long travel suspensions, specialized drivetrains, and locking differentials to keep the tires on the ground and prevent a loss of traction.

On Mars, sand and rocks dominate the landscape, and a rover must navigate around the worst of it. It’s inevitable that, just like a terrestrial off-roader, the Mars rovers will spin a tire now and then when a wheel loses traction. The Mars rovers also have a specialized drivetrain and long travel suspensions. They don’t employ differentials, though, so how are they to prevent a loss of traction and the damaging wheel spin that ensues? This where the aforementioned traction control algorithm comes in.

By controlling the rotation of the wheels with less traction, they can still contribute to the motion of the vehicle while avoiding rock rash. Be sure to check out the excellent article at JPL’s website for a full explanation of their methodology and the added benefits of uploading new traction control algorithms from 200 million miles away! No doubt the Perseverance Mars rover has also benefited from this research.

But why should NASA get to have all the fun? You can join them by 3d printing your own Mars rover and just maybe some Power Wheels derived traction control. What fun!

This Upgraded Power Wheels Toy Is Powerful Enough To Need Traction Control

A Lamborghini Aventador Is beyond the budget of all but the most well-heeled fathers, but [CodeMakesItGo] came pretty close with a gift for his young son. It was a Lamborghini Aventador all right, but only the 6V Power Wheels ride-on version. As such it was laclustre even for a youngster in its performance, so he decided to give it a 12V upgrade. This proved to have enough grunt to cause wheelspin on those hard plastic wheels, so a further upgrade was a traction control system featuring a NodeMCU. No other child has such a conveyance!

Veterans of the Power Racing Series or Hacky Racers might have expected to see a Chinese motor controller in the mix, but instead he’s used a set of relays for simple on-off control. The traction control has a pair of 3D-printed sensor wheels that operate upon a corresponding  pair of optocouplers to provide feedback to the NodeMCU. A set of different drive options were tried, with finally an H-bridge board being found to be most reliable.

The video below the break shows the hardware, and goes into some detail on the software. The NodeMCU’s WiFi is used to provide some tweakability to the system on the go. The traction control turns out to lower the standing start speed a little, but makes the machine more controllable by its driver. he certainly seems happy with his toy!

Long-time readers will know this isn’t the first Power Wheels upgrade we’ve shown you.

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Traction Control Gets More Power To The Road For Tot-Sized Lamborghini

We’ve all heard the complaints from oldsters: “Cars used to be so simple that all you needed to fix them was a couple of wrenches and a rag. Now, you need a computer science degree to even pop the hood!” It’s true to some extent, but such complexity is the cost of progress in the name of safety and efficiency. And now it seems this complexity is coming way down-market, with this traction control system for a Power Wheels Lamborghini.

While not exactly an entry-level model from the Power Wheels line of toddler transportation, the pint-sized Lamborghini Aventador [Jason] bought for his son had a few issues. Straight from the factory, its 6-volt drivetrain was a little anemic, with little of the neck-snapping acceleration characteristic of an electric drive. [Jason] opted to replace the existing 6-volt drive with a 12-volt motor and battery while keeping the original 6-volt controller in place. The resulting rat’s nest of relays was unsightly but sufficient to see a four-fold increase in top speed.

With all that raw power sent to only one wheel, though, the Lambo was prone to spinouts. [Jason] countered this with a traction control system using optical encoders on each of the rear wheels. A NodeMCU senses speed differences between the wheels and controls the motor through an H-bridge to limit slipping. As a bonus, a smartphone app can connect to the Node for in-flight telemetry. Check out the build and the car being put through its paces by the young [Mr. Steal Your Girl] in the video below.

The Power Wheels platform is infinitely hackable – from repairs to restorations to enhancements of questionable sanity, it seems like there’s nothing you can’t do with these little electric vehicles.

Continue reading “Traction Control Gets More Power To The Road For Tot-Sized Lamborghini”