NASA's Curiosity lander touched down on the surface of Mars in August, 2012, and its rover payload rolled out shortly after to begin its meandering mission. While the intrepid explorer did its thing, NASA needed an educational project to help explain the technology and the mission to the general public. That role was filled by a scaled down version called ROV-E, and now tinkerers, students, part-time scientists and the rover curious can build their very own mini Mars rover for exploring backyard craters and vast garden mountain ranges.
Based on NASA's Curiosity and the Mars 2020 rovers, the ROV-E mini outreach rover was built by young engineers and then went on tour in 2015, visiting schools, universities and museums to inspire and engage youngsters – our future space engineers. The six-wheeled rover was designed to answer questions about Mars from the public, and could follow voice commands to move around. It had a built-in audio speaker, a combined Raspberry Pi and an Arduino brain, 3D-printed components and remote-control truck wheels. And it could connect to the internet.
The ROV-E was pretty well received, and responding to many requests from folks who wanted to build their own, engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech (JPL) have designed a new rover model, which anyone with around US$2,500 to spare can build themselves from off-the-shelf parts.
"We wanted to give back to the community and lower the barrier of entry by giving hands on experience to the next generation of scientists, engineers, and programmers," said the JPL project's Tom Soderstrom.
JPL's Open Source Rover has a similar six-wheel steering mechanism and rocker-bogie suspension as the full-sized Curiosity rover. The base model should weigh in at 25 lb (11.34 kg) and have a 24 x 14 inch (61 x 30.5 cm) footprint. Its 5,200 mAh battery is reckoned to be good for 5 hours of continued use per charge and control comes over Bluetooth using an Android app or via a Xbox Controller. Build plans, detailed how-to instructions and a materials list have been posted to GitHub for anyone to freely download and start building.
Numerous hardware and software principles are discussed in the instructions, and if roboticists don't fancy a carbon copy of the rover, there's enough design freedom to customize the build. Hobbyists can even bounce ideas off of each other as part of a wider build community.
"We released this rover as a base model," said project manager Mik Cox. "We hope to see the community contribute improvements and additions, and we're really excited to see what the community will add to it."
Source: JPL Open Source Rover Project
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