The BLUEsat Off-World Robotics group provides an opportunity for students to develop robotic systems with a particular focus on extra-terrestrial exploration. In the long term the group aims to develop a versatile wirelessly controlled rover, capable of performing a variety of tasks in an environment similar to what would be experienced on the surface of the moon or Mars.
Off World Robotics is multidisciplinary, allowing students from a wide rage of degrees to work together. This project is split into three teams: software, electrical and mechanical.
The Software team handles the code that controls the rover, using the ROS framework. Their work involves programming controllers, getting the rover to navigate autonomously and designing GUIs. Long term plans for this team include mapping Lidar and camera data to create a 3D third person view of the rover, and implementing fully autonomous navigation.
The Electrical team designs power distribution and signal control within the rover.
Their work involves design and construction of various custom PCBs for the rover as well as sourcing components.
The Mechanical team deals with designing and manufacturing the physical body of the rover. The team uses CAD to design and analyse mechanical parts for the rover, including the arm, claw and suspension.
The group competes in international rover competitions, providing travel opportunities to group members. After a successful testing expedition to Arkaroola in July 2014, the team designed and made the BLUEtongue rover, which went on to compete in the Polish-based European Rover Challenge in September 2015 where it achieved 15th out of the 40 teams there.
OWR is currently working on improving the BLUEtongue rover for entry into future competitions and as a testing platform for a new rover.
The BLUEsat OWR Rovers
The BLUEtongue Rover
The Off World Robotics’ BLUEtongue rover was designed as a prototype for rovers that may one day accompany a manned mission to mars. It has been in development since mid-2014, and competed in the European Rover Challenge in September 2015, achieving 15th place out of the 40 competing teams. In this competition the rover was required to manipulate a mock-up of a reactor control panel, retrieve tools, navigate rough “Martian” terrain, and take soil and rock samples.
BLUEtongue is a battery powered wireless platform, operated over WiFi using camera feeds and on-board sensors. The rover uses a rocker-bogie suspension system, similar to that of NASA’s Curiosity rover currently operating on Mars. It features a robotic arm and claw, able to manipulate and lift objects up to 5kg, with interchangeable attachments for sample collection and larger object manipulation. At the heart of BLUEtongue is a control and power board, designed and constructed in-house. It controls incoming and outgoing signals, communicates with the on-board computer and handles power distribution to the various motors and sensors.
The OWR team is currently in the process of upgrading and improving the rover, both as a testing platform for the future NUMBAT rover and with the aim to re-compete in the European Rover Challenge in 2016.
The NUMBAT Rover
The planned NUMBAT rover is a continuation of what OWR has learnt from the BLUEtongue Rover. The OWR team plans to utilise a modular design for this new rover, increasing its versatility and allowing for easy addition of features.
We will be changing to an off-road style suspension system to allow for faster navigation of rougher terrain. Our software team plan to combine sensor and camera data to create a real-time 3D third person view of the rover and its surroundings, allowing for better viewing and control of the rover as well as facilitating a more advanced autonomous driving system.
With our planned two year design cycle NUMBAT will be ready to compete in international competitions in 2017.