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Project MarsWorks team is formed of students from across the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield and it is supported by several academics. In 2019, the team qualified for the European Rover Challenge (ERC) where we presented our first rover and received great feedback. We are now finalising preparations for our renewed rover to compete at the Anatolian Rover Challenge (ARC) where we are the only team from the UK. The team’s design report for ARC scored the highest out of all submissions which gives us confidence in our design.

Our rover adheres to a certain weight limit to guarantee its ability to navigate the soft terrain and avoid the risk of digging/sinking into the surface during transit. The desire to have a robust wheel design has led to the intended use of metal 3D printing, a method that may lead to an overall heavy design but will not cause the rover to exceed its weight limit. To effectively traverse the Mars Yard terrain, the rover will be equipped with a total of 6 motor-driven wheels, limited to 1m/s. Their arrangement, in conjunction with their suspension, consists of a design loosely based on the rocker-bogie system, 2 wheels directly connected using a bogie system, with the 3rd being independently connected to the chassis at the rear. This layout intends to tackle issues regarding steep and abrupt terrain changes the rover may encounter, i.e. crater edges and rocks.

The Robot Operating System, (ROS) is used to enable communication between the different types of subsystems within the rover. This decision to use ROS enables the development of subsystems as modular software components, reducing their complexity and enabling iterative prototyping. ROS is also a global open-source community of engineers, developers, and hobbyists who contribute to making robots better, more accessible, and available to everyone which will prove to be beneficial in reducing errors and development time. Nvidia’s Jetson Nano is used as our main GPU because of its compatibility with ROS as well as for its accelerated libraries for deep learning, computer vision, and localisation.

Microcomputer connected network

At the heart of the rover, there is a microcomputer, which is required for the real-time processing of telemetrics and computer vision. This microcomputer is connected to a network of microcontrollers which communicates via a Controlled Area Network (CAN) bus. The CAN bus allows for a modular system whereby any new subsystem can be added by physically connecting it to the existing network. This also allows any of the electronic subsystems to halt the rover in an emergency as signals can be transmitted and received from any point of the network. Communication between the rover and the base station is achieved using long-range 5GHz Wi-Fi connected to the microcomputer so that data can be sent directly to and from the rover without any extraneous components or intermediary signal processing stages. This Wi-Fi connection also allows the transmission of 4 simultaneous video feeds (out of a possible 12) from the rover to the base station. The electronics in the rover monitor all systems to ensure safety. This includes power consumption, battery temperatures, and the expected versus actual positions of mechanical joints.

Building a Mars Rover

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the team to restructure and re-evaluate the design. The team decided not to compete in any international challenges during the lockdown as we found working remotely quite a challenge, especially when it came to making actual changes to the rover. However, this year we are confident in rover as we have worked hard to implement the lessons learned from the past into our new design.

It is also worth noting that Project MarsWorks has recently become one of the founding members of the Sheffield Space Initiative (SSI) – an organisation that brings together all space-oriented, student-led projects at the University of Sheffield. Being a part of SSI means that the team not only gets more publicity, but we also share our ideas and expertise with the other members.

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Hi, I am Ece, an electrical and electronic engineering student with a passion for programming and design engineering.
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