Sunday, February 23, 2014

Canadian Firm Plans to Corner the Worldwide Rover Chassis Market

          by Chuck Black

A Canadian company which developed a modular lunar rover chassis with the help of a 2008 Canadian Space Agency (CSA) grant is planning to corner the worldwide terrestrial market for extraterrestrial rovers, but the original plan to send one to the rovers to the Moon is currently on hold due to a lack of funding.

The Argo J5 Mobility platform being demonstrated at the UTIAS MarsDome on February 20th. Directly behind the orange J5 is a grey JUNO mobility platform (J1) and a J4 Rover, which is currently the basis of the Artemis Jr., the chassis of choice for the proposed NASA Resolve mission. To the left is a second ARGO J5 rover equipped with ODG’s lunar wheel prototype, optimized for harsh conditions.  Both the JUNO and Artemis Jr. Rovers were developed under a series of CSA contracts, beginning in 2008. 

At least that's the plan outlined by Peter Visscher, the space and robotics manager for New Hamburg based Ontario Drive and Gear (ODG) during a February 20th, 2014 public presentation at the MarsDome, a 1,100 square metre, fully enclosed testing facility modified to simulate an extraterrestrial surface, located at the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) North York campus.

Visscher was promoting what he called "pre-production" models of the new Argo J5 Mobility platform. The platforms, generally known as rovers, will be built for educational institutions interested in testing tools for planetary research using real world, or maybe real "off-world" conditions. 

To facilitate this, the rover chassis utilizes a standard control area network (CAN Bus) interface, open API's to facilitate plug-in third party autonomous guidance software and standardized hardware attachment points, something which Visscher calls a "lego style" design. The easy attachment for both hardware and software is designed to encourage the parallel development of the various modules required for academic research and to speed up the development cycle.

An interior shot of the ARGO J5, showing available space along with the standardized bolt holes and attachment points. The J5 measures 1.52 metres x 1.38 metres x .83 metres (H) and weighs 250kg. It's amphibious, maintenance free once deployed and can carry 250 kg at a top speed of 20km/h on land and 4km/h on water. 

"There's lots of academics and researchers looking to work with autonomous vehicles and the ARGO J5 gives them a modular, configurable and low cost chassis for their experiments so that they don't need to reinvent their wheels from scratch," said Visscher, during an interview after the presentation. 

ARGO ATV. Photo c/o ODG.
According to Visscher, the academic market is just the first step in a wider release. Potential markets for the J5 include military, mining, recreational and other areas.

The new rovers will use the same service network as the firm's ARGO all terrain vehicle, which is presently sold and supported in 80 countries throughout the world.

But of course, since the J5 rover derived from earlier development work on Moon rovers, it's only natural that Visscher doesn't just want to see ODG rovers marketed to meet terrestrial demands.

He wants to send them to the Moon which seems perfectly reasonable given their genesis. 

Artemis Jr. rover. Photo c/o CSA.
As outlined in the November 18th, 2013 Ottawa Citizen post "NASA wants to drive Ottawa-designed rover on the moon," a Canadian rover, based around an ODG design was originally developed as a core component of a proposed NASA mission to hunt for water on the Moon in 2017.

The Artemis Jr. rover currently favored by NASA for the mission is the product of a group of Canadian companies including Ottawa based COM DEV International and Neptec Design Group, Sudbury based Deltion Innovations and Sherbrooke based NGC Aerospace. But the chassis is designed and built by the same ODG team which went on to build the J5 rover. 

Of course, as outlined in the February 5th, 2014 post "Canadian Government Funds Proposed Lunar Drill" the NASA mission is currently unfunded and would require a "landing vehicle," which the US would first need to design, fund and then construct. NASA doesn't even have the money to pay for the rover and has asked the CSA to fund further development.

CSA has so far only offered up an undisclosed amount to develop the Deltion drill component of the payload, but has not yet offered up any money to fund any further rover chassis development.

Visscher is hopeful that this could change given the appropriate public support. While his firm would likely benefit from the acquired flight heritage accrued through the proposed NASA mission, it's quite likely that ODG will make money no matter what CSA and NASA end up doing. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Support our Patreon Page