The IIT-B Mars Rover project is a student technical initiative to build working prototypes of rovers having capabilities of all-terrain traversing, performing dexterous tasks via the integrated robotic arm and performing on-board tests for biosignatures. The main objective of the team is to get hands-on knowledge about rovers and space technology which covers mechanical, electrical, biological and geological sub-domains of engineering.
The team consists of budding engineers, ranging from various departments and study programmes offered at IIT-B, working to gain hands on knowledge about development of all terrain rovers and space biosciences, which jointly, help us towards our deployment of the rover.
Inception of the team
The IITB Mars Rover Team was established in 2012 with the objective of working towards building technologies for manned missions to Mars, and inspiring the youth towards space exploration. It paved the way for a rejuvenated community of space enthusiasts in the institute. The establishment of the team was right at the time when India was formulating plans to initiate a mission to Mars. It was initiated with the aim of being a platform where the immense potential in students can be brought to the forefront. The focus, therefore, was on providing the students of IITB a platform for designing, operating, and conceptualising rover designs.
Our team mainly participates in two rover challenges: University Rover Challenge (URC) organized by The Mars Society annually at the Mars Desert Research Station at Utah and the Indian Rover Challenge (IRC) organized by The Mars Society – South Asia annually at different places in India. These competitions provide a well defined problem statement for students to work within a defined timeline and come up with an end to end working prototype. Recently, we also participated in the Indian Rover Design Challenge where we submitted a design report about a rover which can perform tasks on the Martian surface.
The competitions (namely, the URC and the IRC) follow similar steps following up to the actual competition. The organizers release a problem statement every year, delineating the tasks and metrics the rover has to accomplish during the competition. Preliminary tests include submitting an Engineering Design Report of the team and a System Acceptance Review (SAR) video demonstrating the tasks which the rover is capable of performing, and the various technologies involved. Then a shortlist of about 36 teams is published and they’re invited to compete with the other teams on field. Many renowned universities from across the world including Stanford, Harvard, Monash, etc. participate in these competitions, making them a very challenging and exciting event. By participating in these competitions, we get an incredible amount of exposure to different thought processes of approaching a technical problem statement, as well as get an opportunity to try and test our own Innovations.
Achievements of the team
We stood 4th out of 28 teams participating from 7 countries in the Indian Rover Design Challenge 2020.
The team secured the highest points in the SAR acceptance round in IRC 2019, and qualified for the main event securing 20th place among 84 participating teams in URC2019 in the SAR phase.
We participated in URC 2018 after qualifying through the preliminary phase at MDRS in Utah, and successfully completed the competition there.
Previously, we have also been to Mars Analogue Research Station in Arkaroola, Australia where we tested our 6-wheeled rover.
The team consists of mainly three subsystems:
- Mechanical: The mechanical subsystem strives to build a robust system which can not only perform the necessary tasks, but also traverse through rocky Martian-like terrain. There are 4 main components of the mechanical subsystem: Robotic Arm, Suspension, Bio-Assembly, and Wheels & Chassis. The Robotic Arm is a 6 degrees of freedom system with an end-effector which can be used for manipulating objects for e.g. typing on a keyboard, operating a toolkit, pulling ropes, etc. The suspension system is used for traversing the harsh terrain and is designed in such a way that the rover can achieve maximum stability. The Bio-Assembly system is used for collection of soil samples and its distribution which is then used for life detection. Various sensors are also integrated to find out about the methane, nitrogen, and humidity content too. The wheels are designed with the primary aim of traversing through the rocky terrain and minimizing impulsive load transfer to the rover. The chassis subsystem overlooks the system integration; housing all the electrical components and is crucial to the stability of the rover.
- Electrical & Software: The electrical subsystem majorly works on the following areas: Control of arm and steering, autonomous navigation, base station GUI, Wireless communications, Power Distribution and Battery Management System. We employ Inverse Kinematics control for the arm, using Moveit! Motion planning plugin. For the autonomous operation of the rover, SLAM algorithm is used for mapping the surroundings, using a high-power LIDAR, and use Gazebo for running it in a simulated environment. The base station GUI is implemented over multiple machines in a distributed manner, using RQT dashboard, providing visual feedback of IP Cameras, APM and other on board sensors. We also need to establish wireless communication between rover and base station over a 1 km non LOS range, using PoE wireless bridges.
- Biosciences: Preliminary tests for moisture, temperature, and methane content are performed using integrated sensors. Microscopy technique is executed on rover to observe presence of bacteria using gram staining method, further quantifying the observations using image processing. In-situ visible and UV range spectrometry is used to identify the presence of biomolecules like proteins and ATP in the sample. New techniques such as microfluidics are being explored as potential on-rover bioassay methods.
Recruitment for all the subsystems takes place in the Spring semester. The first phase of the recruitment process tests the students on basic problem solving skills which takes into account basic JEE concepts. Thereafter, a round of interviews is conducted where we get to know the candidate better and the final selection is done based on the interview.
We do not expect the candidates to have deep knowledge in the fields, but they should have and show great enthusiasm to work in a team, be enthusiastic about knowledge gain and transfer, as well as be eager to learn, while also developing and implementing innovative ideas for developing a better rover.
Value addition to the team members
As we all know, rover design and control is a new and exciting area of technical development in recent times. Being in the team will help the members stay ahead of the technical developments across the globe, and also get a chance to learn and implement some of those developments themselves. Moreover, we as a team take pride in the freedom of innovation to the members; as a result of which, the members can propose new approaches to the problems and get the opportunity to implement them. This helps in coming up with original ideas, and conceptualise them on their own instead of getting intensively guided by seniors/professors.
Apart from the technical stuff, we as a team participate in various exhibitions within and outside the institute and conferences like Manufacturing India Conference and Awards, which can help develop crucial soft skills for the candidates, which can help in various walks of life.
Future goals of the team
We are striving to achieve better results in the competitions we participate in, while also trying to participate in as many competitions as possible. We also plan to attend and present our research in scientific conferences and try to get a better exposure and stay ahead of the advances in our field.
On a closing note, we encourage our readers to explore some out-of-the-world things.