For those happily devoted to the creativity, engineering and tinkering that defines the maker culture, NASA just dropped an early Christmas present.
Earlier this week, the space agency posted plans on GitHub for anyone interested in building their own miniature version of the Mars Curiosity rover. Called the "Open Source Rover Project," the scaled-down model is a faithful reproduction of the original that, six years on, continues to explore the harsh surface of the red planet.
"We wanted to give back to the community and lower the barrier of entry by giving hands-on experience to the next generation of scientists, engineers, and programmers," Tom Soderstrom, the project sponsor for the Open Source Rover, said in a blog post.
The idea for the Open Source Rover (OSR) was inspired by the extremely positive reception to ROV-E, a smaller, working version of Curiosity that served as an educational tool for high school and college students. After students and teachers repeatedly inquired as to how they could build their own robotic rover, JPL engineers got to work.
"It was an extremely rewarding experience getting to work with the high school teams testing the build process. They had a ton of great ideas and were so enthusiastic about getting involved in robotics and STEM in general. It was exactly what we were hoping to inspire with this project," JPL OSR designer and engineer Eric Junkins.
We said DIY; we didn't say easy
The first thing to know about the OSR model is that it's a much-smaller version of the Curiosity rover — and this is a very good thing. Most people think of Curiosity as the size of a go-kart, when in reality, it's roughly the size of a car, as you can see in the photo above. The OSR by comparison can fit in the trunk of your car.
The other thing to know is that this build isn't cheap. NASA engineers made the sourcing of materials easy by relying on commercial off-the-shelf parts, but acquiring all this gear will still run up a bill of around $2,500.
Price aside, the final product is something of a marvel of engineering and includes many of the design elements, such as 6-wheel steering and Rocker-Bogie suspension, that have contributed to Curiosity's continued success. Like other popular maker projects, the mini-rover has a Raspberry Pi 3 for a brain and can be controlled using either Bluetooth or a wireless XBox 360 gamepad.
Most importantly, however, NASA just wants to see how people customize and evolve the initial design.
"We released this rover as a base model," project manager Mike Cox said. "We hope to see the community contribute improvements and additions, and we’re really excited to see what the community will add to it."
Ready to build your own rover? Check out NASA's official site for the Open Source Rover here.