Missouri S&T Mars Rover Design Team
My team builds a prototype mars rover to compete in the University Rover Challenge (URC) every June in Utah. The aim of the competition is to develop the next generation of Astronaut-Assistive robotic technologies to pave the way for rovers to work alongside astronauts on mars. Competition tasks include traversing extreme terrain, on-board soil analysis, delivering supply packages to and from astronauts working in the field, and servicing equipment such as solar panels and control panels designed for human use. In the spring of 2014 we took 2nd place worldwide. Since then we’ve secured an additional top-5 finish, as well as taking 1st place in our division at the 2016 URC.
Over the past 3 URC competitions, the team has developed three rovers based on our classic ‘Phoenix’ configuration. Some of my contributions to this program are outlined below:
- Chief Technology Officer – (2016 – Current)
- Mechanical Team Leader (2014-2016)
- Frame and Drivetrain Leader – (2013 – 2014)
During my first year on the team (2013-2014), I designed and implemented the frame, suspension, and propulsion systems entirely by myself. This involved also optimizing and proving-out the designs with analysis and testing.
Over the course of the next two years, I led a team of students to ‘iterate’ and further improve this configuration by boosting the terrain handing capability, while increasing total horsepower by 200% and reducing weight by 50%. Some of the specific changes I implemented were:
- Optimizing Suspension Geometry by adjusting wheel-travel vectors for each drivetrain set to better absorb forward-impacts while increasing ground clearance and bouldering capability
- Developing an integrated ‘Propulsion Unit’ which combines the motor and geardrive components into a robust, sealed unit. This process involved retro-fitting industrial servo gearheads to fit within a tight envelope.
- Pioneering CNC Manufacturing Capabilities on our team, allowing team members to optimize their designs further than would be possible with traditional manual machining processes.
These improvements resulted in our final iteration “Zenith” achieving 1st place in our division at the 2016 URC.
The 3rd Rover ‘Zenith’: Kicking up the desert sand
My Mechanical Team after placing 1st at the 2016 URC (I’m in the very back!)
The last Phoenix-Class Rover: Zenith, flanked by its predecessors Phoenix and Horizon (Left and Right respectively)
We’ve seen great successes from this program, but in the interest of continuing to push the boundaries of space robotics we’ve decided to retire the configuration and move forward with a total re-design from the ground-up.
Our new ‘SL’ configuration is based on a scissor-lift mechanism, and results in a much greater kinematic mobility compared to our previous configuration. We are early in the process of this re-design, but iIve included a snippet from a simulation below.
Visit the Team’s Facebook page for more pictures and information: https://www.facebook.com/MissouriMRDT