Innovation

Want a Raspberry Pi-powered Mars rover designed by NASA? Here's how to build one

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) Open Source Rover Project has published the designs and instructions for building a six-wheeled mini Curiosity rover.

Seven years after Nasa launched the Mars Curiosity rover it's now possible to build your own mini-version, and for rather less than the $2.5bn cost of the original project.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) Open Source Rover Project has published the designs and instructions for building a six-wheeled mini Curiosity rover.

JPL says open sourcing the project will give people a sense of what it takes to build a robot for extra-planetary exploration.

"Now students, hobbyists, and enthusiasts can learn about these skills and get a taste of what it is like to construct such a rover using plans and instructions from JPL's Open Source Rover Project," it states.

The rover is a faithful recreation of Curiosity, from its 6-wheel steering all the way to its Rocker-Bogie suspension that helps it keep steady when climbing.

The original Curiosity travels at about 98 feet (30m) per hour and the mini-rover has a similarly sedate top speed of 0.4mph. However, while the car-sized original weighed 1,982lb (899kg) and measured 9.5 foot (2.9m) long by 8.9 foot (2.7m) wide, the DIY version weighs weighs just 25lb (11.3kg) and will be 24-inches long and 14 inches wide.

The "brain" of the mini-rover is the $35 Raspberry Pi single-board computer, a choice JPL says was driven by the Pi's "versatility, accessibility, simplicity, and ability to add and upgrade your own modifications" and its Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB connectivity.

All told the mini-rover can be built for less than $2,500 and will typically take about 200 person hours to complete says JPL. Obviously people can add high-powered motors or more powerful computers to the rover, although JPL says the existing parts strike a balance between factors such as weight, energy consumption and mobility.

While the robot is controlled using an Xbox controller and an Android app, JP says makers could modify it to drive autonomously using the camera, to use other controllers via USB, or make use of additional sensors connected to the Pi's general-purpose input output header.

You can view the list of parts and instructions for building the rover on GitHub, or check out a community forum for help building the rover.

jplrover2.png

A completed version of the mini-rover.

Image: NASA JPL

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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