Most of us have big dreams of going to the Moon someday and even living on Mars. At the moment, rovers are continuously living that dream as scientists continue to develop them to explore more of space.

The rolling hills of Mars require space technology to develop exploration robots that are smooth at climbing loose materials, without being entrapped on soft granular spaces.

To address this need, researchers from NASA introduced the Mini Rover.

Testing the Mini Rover’s Mechanism and Specifications

NASA’s Johnson Space center built the rover with wheeled appendages that you can lift and wheels that wiggle. Terradynamics, a branch of Physics, models the rover’s behavior and movement.

By moving using what researchers termed as rear rotator pedaling, the robot can climb a slope using its unique combination of motions that includes:

  • paddling
  • walking
  • wheel spinning

These complex techniques help the rover climb granular hills and steer clear of getting stuck on the moon or a remote planet. Additionally, the Dunn Family Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, Dan Goldman, stated that the rover could move enough to free itself from jams effectively.

Testing the Mini Rover's Mechanism and Specifications - THESIS.PH

NASA created a lot of potential for the rover’s movement and, together with researchers from Georgia Tech, recreated scaled-down vehicles’ capabilities using 3-D printers.

The researchers assessed their device on the Systematic Creation of Arbitrary Terrain and Testing of Exploratory Robots (SCATTER), which facilitated the test. In this fluidized bed system, you can use slopes that simulate planetary and lunar hills to evaluate the rover’s granular substrate control.

Research Publication, Inspiration, and Keys to Success

On May 13, 2020, the Science Robotics journal revealed the research on its article’s cover. The paper talks about the rover’s gait, where its front wheels simulated the granular materials, and its back wheels pushed it backward.

Goldman mentioned that the rover could even self-organize a hill. The rover’s wheels sweep the surfaces, as the front wheels pushed materials back to smoothen out the steepness that the rear wheels need to climb. This proper use of paddling, lifting, and wheeling allowed slow progress that an ordinary robot might not achieve.

Goldman further stressed the need for minimal disturbance of granular spaces not to cause a mess on the robots. He noted that Shrivastava, Karsai, and Ozkan-Aydin’s discovered gait could help future rovers avoid getting stuck.

The rover’s broad range of movements allowed the research team to test many variations that were studied using granular drag force measurements and modified Resistive Force.

Plans on Future Applications for Future Rovers

Plans on Future Applications for Future Rovers - THESIS.PH

Goldman claims that their laboratory experiments showed principles that lead to increased strength for future planetary explorers. Given this, they planned to apply their findings in:

  • designing larger robots
  • studying robots along with their environments
  • exploring granular and soft matter physics

It can even apply to terrestrial locomotion, which is one of the study’s sponsors. More than anything, the researchers also worked and traveled to NASA with NASA’s Robert Ambrose and William Bluethmann to study and come up with the full-size NASA rover.

If you were asked to identify one area for improvement on this Mini Exploration Rover, what would it be?

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