Modular Systems – The basis of the NUMBAT Rover

Modular designs are not a new concept, in fact they are used just about everywhere from your humble desktop computer to scaffolding on the side of a building. But have you ever seen a modular Mars rover? Well BLUEsat’s new NUMBAT Rover is just that.

The chasis of the NUMBAT Mars Rover ready to be wired.

CAD Render of the NUMBAT robot's chasis. CAD render of the NUMBAT Rover, showing modules being inserted into the chasis.
As you can see in the images above, the NUMBAT rover has a series of “Module Slots” which allow for different systems to be easily placed inside the robot.  These modules can be placed at any point inside the rover, there are no limitations stating that the power supply or on-board computer has to be in a specific location.

It should not be understated how useful this is from a design perspective. The modular system allows for all rover systems to be developed independently, without worrying whether they will interfere with other parts.  As long as the components can fit within a standard size module box, which come in a range of lengths, it can be assembled into the rover.  This also opens up the possibility of having “hot swap” modules, which can be rapidly taken out and replaced depending on the rovers needs.  For example between competition tasks the modules for scientific testing and core drilling could be swapped for additional battery modules and a manipulator arm.

But that’s not all this modular design has to offer, it also means that the rover can fulfil a large range of different operating modes just by swapping out systems. Instead of having to design multiple Mars rovers, one modular platform can fit a variety of tasks. Some examples of this include:

  • Stationary science mission – If the wheel modules and arm modules are not installed, their places may be filled with different scientific modules, greatly enhancing the capabilities of the Rover and allowing it to serve as a scientific hub for different experiments.
  • Assembly line worker – If scientific modules and drilling modules are replaced with additional manipulator arms, potentially with inbuilt tools, the Rover can be repurposed as an assembly line machine. The addition of autonomous software and drive capabilities would allow the Rover to function in most situations.
  • Telecommunications relay – addition of multiple antenna could allow the Rover to become a relay for a mars based telecommunications network.

Overall, the BLUEsat Off-World Robotics Team is very proud of our modular Rover and can’t wait to see how it will perform at this years European Rover Challenge.

Author: Thomas Renneberg

Thomas Renneberg is a 4th-year Mechanical Engineering student at UNSW. Thomas assumed the Off-World Robotics CTO position after a year of being the mechanical team lead and laying the foundation for BLUEsat's new rover. Aside from developing BLUEsat's new rover "NUMBAT", Thomas enjoys cooking and maintaining his vegetable garden.