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The Earth Explorer Project

How it all began

I spent some time helping my dad on his farm. I was doing things like trimming trees and fixing fences.

I was out in the middle of nowhere. I was looking over a pasture that stretched for miles. It always has plenty of cows so it is trimmed pretty close. In fact they trim the trees right down to the ground. So the landscape has nothing but grass, rocks and some dirt.

My mind wondered to more high-tech things... robots. I thought it would be interesting to have a machine that could be turned loose in this environment and have it fend for itself. Like the Mars Rover. It would have to be large enough to traverse the hills and obstacles. It should be waterproof in case it rained. It would need to be able to travel long distances.

But there were more fences to fix and trees to trim...

When I got home I couldn't get this image out of my mind. So I decided to scrap the Yard Rover and build a new machine. I didn't think the three-wheel design of the Yard Rover would be stable enough. I thought it might tip if it went up a hill or tried to drive over a large rock. So I decided to make a four-wheel drive machine. It would be configured like the six-wheel ATVs from years gone by. This turns out to be the same configuration of the RWI ATV robots. The Earth Explorer is about the same size as their ATRV-Jr.

The initial ideas

I had some problems with the Yard Rover mechanical systems. I also ran out of room to mount everything on the Yard Rover. So I wanted to address these problems.

I came up with a list of requirements, or wish list.

  • Somewhere in my robot time-line, I switched from my 12V 4AHr ni-cads and went to 12V 7AHr gel-cells, so I wanted to use them.
  • I would also use the DC/DC converters from the Yard Rover.
  • The original motors and drive train worked well so I would design around them.
  • I wanted significant ground clearance.
  • I wanted to use a gasoline engine for unlimited distance.
  • I wanted to use the wireless network cards from the Research 2 project.
  • I wanted to use either a laptop or IBM type motherboard for the main processor.
  • I wanted to install a GPS receiver for mapping.
  • Eventually I want it to be semi-autonomous.
  • I may add an arm or gripper in the future. To pick up things like rocks.
  • Like previous projects that I never finished, I want to bolt on every sensor that I can get my hands on.

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