Your Radio Controlled Rover

Few people will get the opportunity to drive a rover on another planet or moon, but lots of people have radio controlled toys. In this article we are going to look at how you can use one of these common toys to practice the principles of rover driving.

You should first read the article that introduces rover driving. In that you'll learn why a sequence of several driving instructions are sent to a rover at the same time. You're going to do something similar. You'll plan a route, and then drive your rover without looking at it.

Step 0: Choose a vehicle

You can use any vehicle that you have. If you only have one, then use that. However, there are some things to consider.

A standard radio controlled car is not an ideal substitute for a planetary rover. After a bit of experimentation, you'll probably work out that the main reason is because they're too fast. And fast means difficult to drive accurately. Also, depending on the design, a radio controlled car is likely to need to move forwards or backwards in order to turn.

The ideal vehicle will move slowly and be able to turn "on-the-spot", with zero turning radius. For these reasons the ideal vehicle is something like a tank.

Radio controlled tank Radio controlled tank - slow and maneuverable

We thankfully aren't at the point where we're sending actual tanks to other planets, so I decided to make mine a little more rover-like. This just involved removing some unnecessary parts, and then spraying the top white.

Modified tank Modified tank

Another good choice is a robot similar to that shown below. These are often designed for use indoors, and so travel at a more sedate pace. Ideal for driving around the kitchen floor. Although they're normally a bit more chatty than your average rover.

Radio controlled robot Radio controlled robot - the MiBro Really RAD Robot

Step 1: Play with the vehicle

Before we get all serious and mathematical in driving the rover, you should enjoy it. Maybe it's been sitting unused for a while; or maybe you picked up a budget one especially for this article. Race it around a bit. Take it off some sweet jumps. As well as getting your money's worth you'll also get a better idea of how it drives.

Step 2: Choose an area to explore

Your next choice is where you are going to be driving. The main consideration is safety - for you and your rover. Desolate, rocky areas might be an appealing backdrop to your planetary exploration, but they aren't always the safest of places. Also, since you will be driving your rover without looking at it, you won't be able to spot hazards such as approaching cars, cyclists, or cliff edges.

Concrete driveway Concrete driveway

If you have a driveway outside of your home, then that's a good choice. Just spread out some rocks, or flower pots, or some other targets to aim for. If your vehicle is slow enough, then the floor of a room in your home is also an option. Both of these choices have the benefit that you could be within range of your WiFi, which will be useful for some future articles.

Step 3: Give it a go

Basically, try driving without looking. Pick a destination, turn away, and then try to drive your vehicle to it. Then have a look how close you got.

Keep repeating.

See how close you can get to a target object in a single run. See if you can navigate around some obstacles. Imagine that you had one chance each day to send that sequence of instructions.