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This week the Astrobotic team deployed Red Rover's third prototype in a Pittsburgh-area slag heap to begin evaluating its ability to handle outdoor terrain with loose rocks and challenging slopes. (Slag heaps are fields of waste rock left over from the refining of iron ore at steel mills.)
Astrobotic and its partners at Carnegie Mellon University presented their technical developments several times this week at the NASA exploration workshop in Galveston and at Johnson Space Center in Houston, showing advancements in operating throughout the lunar day, surviving hibernation during the long lunar night, and unstoppable mobility solutions. Dr. Red Whittaker, Astrobotic's chairman and founder of the Field Robotics Center at CMU, led the delegation, which included President David Gump and Chief Engineer John Thornton.
The third prototype of Astrobotic's Moon robot has begun mobility tests in the high bay of the Gates Computer Science building at Carnegie Mellon University. The clip below shows the first two prototypes out in the field, followed by P3 in the high bay, rolling past the cryogenic freezer, the walk-in oven for curing composite structures, and the vacuum chamber at the far right.
To protect the rover's motors from the blistering heat of the lunar day, they are mounted inside the rover's body. (This isn't necessary in Mars' chilly atmosphere; motors are placed out in the individual wheel hubs.)
The team has added key components to the third prototype's interior, readying it for the first roll this week.
Before the robot arm can accurately perform a task, such as carve up a mold placed in front of it, it needs to understand where that object is located in three dimensional space in relation to itself. A previous blog post showed how it used a piezoelectric button to tap on a base surface to determine the surface's orientation and position in 3-space. This video shows how it now understands the location of the base surface sufficiently to keep a pen lightly drawing across the surface.
April 26, 2010 - by Lunar battery enters cycle tests
The battery destined to provide backup and surge power to the Astrobotic rover on the Moon is now in charge/discharge cycle tests. The tests will determine how well the battery pack (nine cells from hybrid-car battery firm A123) holds up in continuous use, including following the minus 180C of the lunar night.
A walk-in oven for curing large composite pieces arrived this week at Carnegie Mellon's Planetary Robotics Lab. The oven is especially useful for the pieces that will make up the spacecraft-lander that delivers our robot to the lunar surface. The oven's floor includes two grooves for the wheels of the support cart that will hold large pieces in the 350-degree curing phase. The oven also will be used, at lower temperatures, for determining the highest operational temperature of batteries and electronic components.
April 21, 2010 - by Robot arm taps into calibration
A challenge in commanding a robot arm to carve up a target object with its router is precise understanding of where that object is located in "three space." The team recently developed a process to locate the plane of its angle table (the baseline surface upon which an object rests) using a piezoelectric "button" that is tapped several times to establish at least three points in space.

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