Carleton Planetary Robotics Team

 

 

Carleton University Competition Team 

Faculty of Engineering and Design 

 

Roles:  Founder and President (2013) 

             Mechanical Team Lead (2014 – 2016) 

 

Website: 

Overview 

 

The Carleton Planetary Robotics Team (CPRT) is a group of students working towards designing, building, and programming a Mars rover to compete  at events such as the University Rover Challenge, the European Rover Competition, and the UK Rover Challenge. Consisting of roughly 25 students, CPRT provides students an opportunity to apply concepts learned in the classroom to real life situations which are encountered by planetary vehicles such as obstacle avoidance, terrain traversing, science sample collection, astronaut assistance, among others. 

The Competition and Our Rover

 

The CPRT rover is a 50 kg modular vehicle which is designed to accomplish four primary tasks:

 

  1. Science Cache – collect soil samples at selected sites on the desert field, perform basic science evaluation of these samples with onboard instrumentation, and store one sample in cache for further scientific analysis.
  2. Astronaut Assistance – collect multiple objects in the desert field and deliver/ deploy them to multiple locations throughout the field with the use of a mechanical arm and end effector
  3. Equipment Servicing – Perform several dexterous operations on a mock-up equipment system including such as pouring fuel into a tank, pushing buttons, flipping switches, and reading messages on a LCD display.
  4. Terrain Traversing – Traverse a variety of difficult terrains as part of an engineering field test of the ruggedness and route-finding ability of the rovers. Terrains may include soft sandy areas, rough stony areas, rock and boulder fields, vertical drops and steep slopes.

 

In order to accommodate the variety of tasks, the rover is designed to have a base configuration with a common frame and a chassis consisting of 4 wheels. Additional components are added to the base configuration to tailor features specifically for each task. The use of a perforated plate as the frame base allows us to freely locate electrical components within the frame and optimize parameters such as the center of mass for each task.

During the equipment servicing and astronaut assistance tasks, a mechanical arm and end effector is attached to the front end of the rover. With 6 degrees of freedom, the arm can reach objects within the visual range of the front-view camera. The end effector is switched between these two tasks to accommodate either science instruments and a digging mechanism or a claw like manipulator.

Operations are accomplished with a point to point communication system established between the rover and base station using Wi-Fi. Communication is achieved with a stationary and omnidirectional antenna on the rover and a high gain antenna at the base station which orients itself so as to point towards the rover. An onboard camera system consisting of five cameras was chosen to ensure operators are capable of assessing the position of the rover relative to obstacles at all times. ROS (Robot Operating System) is used as a framework to control the rover through a visual interface (video stream), telemetry interface, and commands interface.
My Experience with CPRT

I am mostly grateful to CPRT for the opportunity it has given me to explore, develop, and strengthen a vast ocean of skills, particularly those related to teamwork and leadership.  CPRT has been a unique experience since it has allowed me to experience a project from multiple different roles, each with its unique duties and responsibilities.

As founder and president, I saw CPRT from a project management, personal relations, and business development perspective. During this role I had to motivate students to join the team, present in front of faculty and sponsors in a sales pitch fashion to obtain required approvals to proceed with the team, and lead a group of students towards the goal of creating a fully operational terrestrial rover using the limited robotics, mechatronics, management, and administrative experience I had at the time.

As mechanical team lead, I lived CPRT from a more technical, hands on, design oriented perspective. Not only did I have to teach myself entirely new concepts applicable to vehicles, I had to learn how to guide people with limited design experience through the entire design cycle. I had to work as both a systems integrator and designer to ensure the work done by my colleagues would properly interface with electrical and software designs. I also had to review, correct and approve calculations and designs which helped me develop an eye for detail and crucial aspects.

During my role as mechanical team lead, I took on the major design aspects of the frame and most of the complex Finite Element Analysis (FEA) done on the frame, chassis, and wheels. In addition, I held sessions in which I would teach other members how to use ANSYS Workbench for some of the simpler components while they developed a better understanding of the software. In addition, I also established the engineering drawings template, numbering/ naming convention, and proper graphical dimensions and tolerancing practices to ensure correct and consistent drawings among members.

CPRT has made up an enormous part of my undergraduate university experience and I look forward to continue being part of such an incredible, dynamic, and passionate team.