KnuthLab LEGO Exploration Rover


KnuthLab Exploration Rover with
Researchers A. Fischer and N. Malakar

The Knuth Cyberphysics Laboratory in the University at Albany Physics Department has developed the KnuthLab LEGO Exploration Rover, which acts as an inexpensive testbed for robotic intelligence and navigation software. Development of this rover was funded by a NASA SBIR Award (Advanced Bayesian Methods for Lunar Surface Navigation) through Autonomous Exploration Inc. as well as a University at Albany Faculty Research Award (Developing Robotic Explorers, PI: K.H. Knuth).

The LEGO Exploration Rover is powered by six NXT Standard Motors in a Rocker-Bogie suspension system used in all of the NASA Mars rover designs. The rover is approximately 1.5 ft high with a 1 ft x 1.5 ft base. It is larger than the NASA Sojourner Rover, which was part of the Pathfinder Mission to Mars in 1997, and smaller than the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. It can safely carry a payload of 8 pounds.

KnuthLab LEGO Exploration Rover

The LEGO Exploration Rover has two laptop bays built into the box-like frame in which it can carry two Asus Eee Laptops for onboard processing. The wheels are controlled by two LEGO NXT bricks, which can communicate with the laptops via Bluetooth. The laptops are set up to run Matlab which, during autonomous operation, will send commands to the NXT bricks running the motor control software. The rocker-bogie suspension and low speed allows it to handle relatively rugged terrain and steep grades.

The white frame mounted on top of the rover is the Bayesian Vision-Based Navigation System being developed by Autonomous Exploration Inc. for NASA. The frame has two forward-facing cameras, which record data from the scene, which is used by the Bayesian vision-based navigation system to infer the position and pose of the robot. There are also two rear-facing cameras, which monitor an LED array (not shown), which is used to provide calibrated "ground truth" for comparison. The photos above were taken during two of the data collection runs for our NASA SBIR Phase I efforts.


On Wednesday Sept. 12, 2012, the Knuth Cyberphysics Lab at the University at Albany was visited by a television crew from NHK World Network (Japan Broadcasting Corp.). They were working on a piece focused on the Mars Curiosity rover and were interested how NASA missions fostered creativity in robotics. In our lab, they were specifically interested in the fact that we used LEGO robots to test software for funded NASA projects. The program aired in Japan on Sept 15, 2012.

KnuthLab Exploration Rover as featured on NHK
WorldNet with A. Mubeen and Prof. K.H. Knuth

Here is a link to the show's website.

Here is the photo caption from the website: NASAは自由な発想で宇宙開発に挑むために、 あるユニークな方法を取り入れている。その方法とは、おもちゃにもなっているブロック。次世代の探査機を研究しているチームでは、ブロックを使いながら設計予想図のイメージを共有し、問題点を洗い出している。何度も手軽に作り直すことができ、自由な発想を形にしやすいのがブロックの強みだ。キュリオシティの開発でもブロックを使って検討作業を行った。研究開発の担当者は「ブロックを使うと、いいアイディアかそうでないかはすぐにわかるので方針転換も早くなる」と話す。

The Bing translation is: Incorporating a unique way for free thinkers NASA challenge space development. How is block have become toys. Share the anticipated blueprint image team studies the next-generation spacecraft, while using the block and identify the problem. Easily can be recreated many times, easy and free thinking-is an advantage of the block. Using the block curiosity Inc. developed and went on. Research and development professionals "using blocks, a good idea? So readily detect if it isn't policy change even faster" and speak.

"Free-thinking with the block!"---that is what we do!