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Senior Project - SPIDER


Low-Cost Robotic Control System

Senior Project: 2000-2001
Daniel Cer, Sandor (Sandy) Dornbush, Kenneth Mankoff, Lauren Penney and Colette Wilklow

The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), a research organization at the University of Colorado in Boulder, has been an active participant in the U.S. space program since the early 1950s. Funded primarily by NASA, members of LASP conduct fundamental research in the atmospheric and planetary sciences, develop space instrumentation, and create computer information systems for space operations.

One current LASP project is the construction of an autonomous, robotic Mars rover, SPIDER. SPIDER is designed for simple navigational tasks. It is a unique hybrid between legged motion and wheels, and suffers from neither the mechanical and processing complexity of legs, nor the navigational shortcomings of wheels found in other robotic systems. SPIDER uses autonomy and its unique navigational capabilities to traverse a partially known environment. The primary advantage of autonomous systems is the elimination of latency of human to robot interaction. Autonomy also contributes to lowering costs and improving overall effectiveness, i.e. fewer operations personnel are required to interact with the robot and on-board goals facilitate greater data return by eliminating the communications overhead.

This project team developed and tested a simulation environment for this autonomous planetary robot in a virtual environment. The original proposal was to develop a control system that would contain stubs for lower level hardware implementation. This proved to be unrealistic due to lack of an actual robot on which to migrate the software. The team instead exclusively developed a simulation environment, while keeping in mind the plan to port the software to a real robotic body. The design and implementation will lead to a smooth transition to an actual hardware system when it becomes available in the future. The project was developed in a Linux environment using Java, C++, and IDL.

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