Electronics

NASA’s Open Source Rover Is a Miniature Curiosity You Can Build Yourself

NASA’s Curiosity rover has been a huge success, covering more distance on Mars than any other vehicle. The agency has used Curiosity as a tool to promote science and robotics in classrooms around the country, and it even built a smaller version of Curiosity called ROV-E to demonstrate some robotics concepts firsthand. After hearing from students and teachers who want to build their own version of ROV-E, engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have created the Open Source Rover. It’s a small Curiosity-style rover you can build yourself (even if you’re not a student).

The Open Source Rover (OSR) is designed in such a way that you don’t need any expensive custom parts — it’s all off-the-shelf stuff. The ROV-E was too complicated and expensive for a high school robotics project, but the OSR should cost less than $2,500. That’s not exactly an impulse purchase, but Curiosity itself cost about $2.5 billion. So, the OSR is a real bargain.

JPL says a team looking to build the mini-rover will need to have some experience with basic fabrication and machining, electronics, and programming (Linux and Python). At its heart, the Open Source Rover is a lot like other robots. It has a Raspberry Pi 3 for a brain, and you can control it with an Android phone via Bluetooth or with an Xbox 360 wireless controller. An RGB matrix display provides visual feedback.

The OSR is obviously much simpler than the real Curiosity, but it still has some of the same clever engineering. The plans call for a 6-wheel design with rocker-bogie suspension. That means each wheel can move up and down independently as the rover crawls over obstacles. The differential pivot allows the rover to shift its weight from one side to the other while climbing as well. When complete, the Open Source Rover has a footprint of about two feet by one foot.

NASA’s example of a finished OSR.

The JPL GitHub contains everything you need to get started, but that’s only intended as a basic framework. Builders can make decisions about what features they want to include — everything from USB cameras to even solar panels. You can add more capabilities to the rover at the expense of battery life. The standard build from JPL has a 5,200 mAh rechargeable battery and can run for about five hours on a charge.

JPL has even put together some parts lists on sites like Amazon and Adafruit, which you can access on the GitHub page.

Now read: NASA’s Planet-Hunting TESS Spacecraft Is Now Operational, NASA May Have Accidentally Destroyed Evidence of Organics on Mars 40 Years Ago, and ESA Begins Designing Mission to Return NASA’s Mars Samples to Earth

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