The role of the Rover Engineer

Our job as rover engineers is to keep our Q14 Space Rover fed and watered and ready for each day’s mission tasks so the science activities can be accomplished without a hitch. The rover lives with us overnight in the camp Geodome and so every morning we take the rover outside, replace the batteries with a fully charged set, start it up and check the systems, and then put it through a short, pre-planned autonomous drive routine to ensure that when on mission, the rover will perform as required.

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The Q14 Rover in Utah

When on mission operations, whilst we are on hand to ensure everything goes as expected, the rover drives itself autonomously through a series of waypoint locations contained in a file downloaded from the Mission Operations Centre in Harwell. To ensure the rover goes where it should over sometimes steep and rough terrain, we use a technique called visual odometry (VO) in conjunction with a single fixed stereo camera on the rover mast. VO accurately estimates the frame by frame change in the rover pose, and drives a controller which steers the rover back on track to the next waypoint should it deviate.

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The Rover’s view of the terrain

Whilst driving we use a remote dashboard to monitor battery state, actuator temperatures and torques, and to estimate wheel odometry and energy consumption, and so we get an early warning of any potential problems.

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The Q14 remote dashboard App

Typically at the end of each drive segment the rover will pause and collect a series of PanCam images. Our rover systems integrate with those of the PanCam so that we can command the PanCam from far away using the rover’s long range wifi link. This has the big advantage of enabling the operator to hide behind a hill and stay out of the imaging…. The rover also logs its attitude and calculates the roll and pitch angles of the platform so that this metadata can be sent back to Harwell with the PanCam imagery.

Our goal is hitch free operation and so, unusually for us, the more routine the day is, the better!

Brian Yeomans, Oxford Robotics Institute Platform Engineer

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