Straight from the very smart folks at NASA comes the Modular Robotic Vehicle (MRV). This little vehicle is adapted from the space technologies developed for exploration rovers used on the Moon and on Mars. When not building spacecraft, NASA focuses on adapting space technologies for those of us down here on Earth. The result of one such attempt is the MRV, which takes the mobility and control systems of a rover and turns it into an agile little car.
According to a recent article in the IEEE Cars That Think newsletter, the MRV has the ability to perform as it does because of four independently actuated wheels. Each wheel boasts it own liquid-cooled motor and independent steering system. The MRV is so agile that the wheels can rotate ±180 degrees. Imagine seeing that passing you on the highway or doing donuts in the parking lot!
While the MRV comes with a steering wheel, pedals, and other typical car stuff, the real excitement comes from the multi-axis joystick in the center console. Described as a “hovercraft on wheels” by IEEE’s Evan Ackerman, the joystick “drifts” or translates the MRV vehicle, while also rotating it. When a skilled driver uses the steering wheel along with the joystick, the MRV can quickly maneuver on the fly in any direction.
We especially liked Ackerman’s point that the all-electronic control “makes it relatively simple to turn the vehicle into a robot, whether you’re going for remote control, assistive autonomy, or full autonomy.”
Unmanned vehicles of all types require sensor systems; rovers, whether on Earth or on Mars, are no different. In fact, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) AERO rover that competed in the NASA DARPA Robotics Challenge used KVH’s 1750 IMU to provide inertial navigation data, which allowed the autonomous vehicle to dead-reckon without GNSS input. WPI relied on KVH’s 1750 IMU as the primary navigation sensor because of its high accuracy and high bandwidth capabilities. Read more about the WPI project here.