Monday, November 24, 2008

Waiter, there's a six legged pESApod in my convention!

Hi, This is Michael Sacchi from
I'm guest-posting on the pESApod blog to tell the amazing story from our point of view.
Last weekend, on November 15th-16th we had our third Astronauticon, our annual convention in Montecatini Terme (PT). Every year the convention allows the users of ForumAstronautico to gather and share their passion, with displays of model artworks, talks and speeches. This year we also announced the foundation of the Italian Space and Astronautics Association (ISAA) ( work in progress). The convention, of course, is open to anyone.
Last year our honor guest was astronaut Umberto Guidoni, and this year we had Paolo Bellutta, an engineer from JPL, in live conference from California, to talk about his experience in the team leading the efforts of the two Mars Exploration Rovers on the surface of the red planet.
But while we were working out the last details for the conference, thanks to our fellow user Rino "Lovell" Casella, we received an offer we just couldn't turn down: a live demonstration of pESApod, by the Italian team involved in the ESA Lunar Robotics Challenge, from Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa
What a day!
The team prepared its lovely six legged wonder on the sandy soil we provided and it's been amazing to see it move and perform in front of an audience staring in a feeling of awe. Shy comments and seldom enthusiastic exclamations broke the silence as we marvelled at what a team of smart people had been able to accomplish in just 5 months.
But it wasn't over!
Just after Paolo finished answering questions, with the power of the Internet we "took" him for a walk to see the rover from up close. Paolo and Calogero even had the opportunity to exchange a few words regarding the technicalities of the rovers..Face to face!. Unbelievable.

An amazing day, we wish the pESApod and its team all the best for the future of the rover, and look forward to see them again...maybe on the Moon!

Michael Sacchi, - Italian Space and Astronautics Association.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

pESApod landed to the MOON

Yes, you are right: pESApod landed to the Moon! What a nice view...

This beautiful picture has been taken by Matteo Negri during the conference Astronauticon3 recently held in Montecatini Terme, where the robot gave a live demonstration. The amazing editing was performed by Roberto Beltramini. Thanks Matteo and Roberto!
This is the original one...

Friday, October 31, 2008

There is water on the Moon!

Eventually, we are back from "the secret location in the Canary Island" that everybody knew to be Tenerife. We are quite satisfied because our robot received much appreciation both from ESA and from the competitors. Our system was working well and we have been able to perform many successful tests at night and during daylight. Still we had some concerns with steep rises, but the rover proved to be capable of descending steep slopes, walking teleoperated via a multi-hop network and - above all - to recover a sample of gravel.

Unfortunately, bad weather did not allow us to compete. We had to abort the night test as well as the following day because of rain that has literally short-circuited many of our electric components. Still, we are happy with the whole experience as we were able to follow the proposal we presented at the CDR without modifications despite the lack of time. We guess people recognized it as we were asked "How did you manage to build such a complex rover in such a short time?". We are still asking it ourselves...

We also would like to congratulate with the CESAR team from University of Bremen that was the only robot to complete the task and with all the other teams for the friendly and collaborative atmosphere.

By now, we are only able to post some photographs but the videos will follow soon.

Consolation: there is actually no rain on the moon.

pESApod ready to start the challenge (but clouds were approaching...)

Working to recover the electronics after the first shower

The second shower

Friday, October 24, 2008

First night test

We spent almost all the time yesterday trying to solve an electronic problem which turned out to be due to the extremely low temperature that features this place. Probably we will need to heat the robot - maybe with some kind of infrared lamp - before the challenge in order to avoid a dramatic change in power driver behavior.

Finally, at 11 pm we could go in the darkness to perform the first night test. The robot has been able to walk on small slopes without failures and to perform maneuvers. We have also fully tested the stereocamera actuation, the end-effector and the network-node dispenser. The end-effector dug up some terrain and is also able to release it raising the leg.
Our performance has attracted many people from other teams and the organization and we received many appreciations. "Just impressive" said the leader of one of the other teams, and that is really rewarding for all of us.
Vision proved to be very good even with just one out of 3 LED groups, thus saving even further energy. Now the robot is expected to last 2 hours with just 2.6 kg of Li-Poly batteries, which is just impressive!

Some software credits

As pESApod approaches his final trial, we wish to list (and thank) the developers of the many tools we used to build our software and communication infrastructure. So, here's what it takes to build a space robot:
  • MATLAB and Simulink
  • SolidWorks, CATIA, ProEngineer WildFire and Ansys, used for mechanical modeling
  • The B.A.T.M.A.N. routing protocol, providing multi-hop communication
  • The Fonera wireless routers (be sure to check out their lively community, both the official Foneros community and the open-source projects like Rome's Ninux)
  • The OpenWrt linux distribution, that powers the Fonera
  • The GNU project, for their GCC compiler and their many tools, used to compile all of our code, from high-level teleoperation station to the low-level FPGA
  • Debian Linux, powering our VIA Epia board
  • The Nios II IDE, based on Eclipse, and of course vim and Geany, our trusted code editors (vim for Alessandro and Geany for me, of course :-)
  • The Quartus IDE by Altera, used to develop on our FPGAs
  • FAME, a fast (but somehow messy) video encoding library
  • libdc1394, used to read data from the high-quality Point Grey cameras
  • The QT 4 toolkit for the high level interface
  • Intel and the MMX instruction set, without which it would not have been possible to encode the video stream in real time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A very harsh environment

Today the weather has been better than yesterday, but still pretty cold. Now it's 10 pm and the clouds are beginning to fall over the crater. We are finishing to tune the robot for the night test. We will be the 6th group to compete, so we are going to start saturday night at about 11 pm.
By now, our team seems to be immune to the Canarian illness that is widespread among the other teams. However this hostile environment is proving us, too.
There is also a strong media coverage here. The following is an article published by a famous German magazine: