The mine rover captures a video image of the photographer taking its photo. The photographer’s image has been sent from the rover camera (black object just to the right of the light at the front of the rover) to the computer screen.
Abandoned mines — remnants of Old West mining booms — closely guard their secrets in the forgotten corners of Arizona’s backcountry.
The rover communicates with the computer outside the mine through a 900 MHz radio modem that MaxStream donated to the project. It has a seven-mile range line-of-sight and a half-mile range in dense urban areas. Although they haven’t tried it yet, Dooley and Brock believe this will give them sufficient power to communicate with the rover around corners in the mine.
But they still plan to tie a cord to the rover, just in case they need to drag it out or if it dives into a hidden, vertical shaft.
Two servos designed for quarter-scale model airplanes drive the rear wheels, which originally were intended for radio-controlled, off-road, model cars. The servos have a 19 inch-pound rating and will push the rover to a maximum speed of 1.6 mph, although it will rarely move that fast while exploring mines.
Brock and Dooley originally wanted to use tank-treads instead of wheels, but couldn’t find a suitable system. "We’re still working to upgrade this because the rover can’t spin on itself now and because we’re afraid that it might get high-centered on rocks or other bumps in the mine floor," Brock said.
The rover’s large wheels are centered on the body and the students originally designed it so that it could turn over and still be driven. "But then we wanted a big, pan-and-tilt camera," Brock said. "So now it can’t turn over. But we could remove that camera and use a really small pinhole camera like those found in security systems. That would be smaller in height and we could drive right-side-up or upside-down."
Combining Standard Components With Plenty of Know-How
The rover is built entirely from off-the-shelf components, most of which were not intended for use in this kind of project. But a considerable amount of expertise in robotics was needed to assemble them into a functioning rover. With the donated radio modem and other parts that Brock and Dooley had lying around in their well-stocked junk box, they were able to build the robot for about $200. They estimate that building it from scratch with all-new parts would cost about $1,000.
Depending on what they find inside the mine, they may add extra features in the future, such as a winch or robotic arm to drag out artifacts. They also might equip the robot with a grinding tool so that it could scrape away the surface oxidation on rocks to expose fresh rock underneath, much as the Mars rovers are doing now on the Red Planet.
This kind of robot also could have many other uses, Brock noted. It could become a mobile base for model rockets. "You could mount the rocket, then drive it out and launch it," he said. Or you could equip it with chemical or biological sensors to investigate suspicious packages or vehicles.
Dooley also said a Palm Pilot might be in the robot’s future. "Palm Pilots are pretty powerful now," she said. "You can do a lot with them, and it would be cool to walk out there with just the rover and a Palm pilot."
Ed Stiles | UA News
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