A MODULAR MULTI-FUNCTION ROVER AND CONTROL SYSTEM FOR EVA
Stephen McGuire, Joel Richter, Kevin Sloan
The Penn State Mars Society
A Chapter of The Mars Society at
The Pennsylvania State University Š University Park
The immediate future will see the continual development of robotic exploration as our primary means of exploring other planets, and more specifically, Mars. Once the time does arise for mankind to again push his frontiers to new limits, our definition of space exploration will be completely redefined. However, human exploration of our solar system cannot happen without the assistance of our robotic counterparts which helped blaze the trail into space. This transition to human exploration will see astronauts virtually isolated by lengthy communication delays as long as forty minutes, and consequently being required to maintain an extremely high level of self sufficiency. Expectations of such a high profile mission will also mandate that copious amounts of field work and related studies be conducted over its duration. In order for these astronauts to be able to maximize their time, and produce extraordinary quantities of data, new methods for human-rover interaction in planetary exploration must be developed.
One scenario that shows a strong need for more research into new methods is a small team of astronauts (or possibly even a single astronaut) on the surface of Mars conducting field work out of the immediate reaches of their base. It seems only natural for research rovers to accompany the team into the field. However, having to deal with robotic equipment while in a space suit presents several issues, the primary one being control. By incorporating virtual reality glove technology into the astronautÕs gloves, his hands become a quick, easy and effective input device. A simple hand command can activate the gloves, and the rover begins to respond to hand gestures, which are interpreted as commands. Our isolated astronaut now has complete flexibility in the control over all of the different robotic equipment and machines that will be in the field with him.
All plausible mission outlines for the first manned missions to Mars entail the crew collecting extraordinary amounts of data in a plethora of different areas. Most of the field work would be conducted with research rovers such as those described above, each specializing in a different area. A much smaller fleet of modular rovers allows for mission flexibility while significantly cutting back on overall mission cost and weight. This modularity, coupled with the simplicity of the glove input, tackles many of the difficulties that an astronaut would face in the field that would otherwise severely hinder his productivity. A multiyear design project at Penn State, focused on these concepts is described in this paper.