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:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Moon here, please respond

Hi everyone, today we were able to test our beloved pesapod on the trials ground for the first time and results were amazing. Climate is not quite lunar, but really weird actually. During the day we are facing freezing temperatures is full sunlight and sometimes a cloud gets low enough and passes right through our camp. It's the first time we ever seen such kind of "horizontal rain"

Sunday, October 12, 2008

pESApod is our friend

Friday, October 10, 2008


Thursday, October 9, 2008

"pESApod, come forth!"

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday of control

Sunday night in the lab.

Tuning the low-level controllers has been harder than expected, but we ended coming up with a satisfying dynamic performance.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

pESApod is within us!

This morning we have finished to assemble the robot structure. In the picture you can see pESApod standing on its own legs for the first time!

The robot has then been carried to Pontedera's lab where our control specialists are working to give it the breath of life!

As you can see, pESApod is designed to fit perfectly in a Fiat Punto boot!