Driving in the Rain

Find out how we made the Leo Rover mobile robot watertight.

May 10, 2023


Aleksandra Szczepaniak

Leo Rover watertight

Whether you’re a roboticist, a scientist or simply a hobbyist, you surely want your rover to be robust. Being watertight is always a plus too, especially when you operate your robot outside. You never know what might happen so it’d be best to have a rover about which you don’t have to worry when it gets wet. Let’s take a closer look at the Leo Rover and see what makes it watertight.

The beginning of watertightness

Turtle driving in water
Turtle driving partially in water

The original idea was to make a rover that could drive even underwater, but that didn't quite pan out. But hey, it’s the thought that counts, right? :) Anyway, it all started with the Scorpio rover – a Martian robot developed by a student association at Wrocław University of Science and Technology that some of us were members of. We realized that although the whole idea of Scorpio was that it was a prototype for a Mars vehicle, in fact, it wasn’t a Martian rover, but an Earth one. It was our planet's conditions it had to withstand, after all. It rains on Earth and when we prepared Scorpio for planetary rover competitions such as ERC and URC, we had to take into consideration that even if it rained a little, the contest would still go on. Thus, we made sure that our robot could hold out against such challenges. And that's how we ended up with a rover that can drive in the rain.

As we kept working on the robot, it dawned on us that anything can happen, it doesn’t have to be limited to rain. The rover should be able to withstand anything you throw at it. After all, the last thing you want for your mobile robot is to break  down just because you’ve had a bad day and spilled something on it, isn’t it?  And that’s the assumption we came up with – to make sure the rover would survive harsh conditions without you worrying about it.

As the product developed, the concept of the rover being watertight also went on. So, as of now, the Leo Rover is indeed weatherproof. You can drive it in the rain and don’t have to worry that after getting wet, your robot’s toast. Trust us, it can handle it.

How is Leo Rover protected from water?

All the rover’s elements that could be damaged by water are properly protected. For example, the metal part by the wheels is a tube that encases the wheel motor.

A Leo Rover’s wheel transection
The Leo Rover’s wheel cross-section with the tube holding the motor

The tube’s job is to protect the motor against impacts and to seal it. It also serves as a mounting element for bearings. On one side, the tube has O-rings to seal the wiring assembly, and on the other, there’s a lip seal that allows the motor shaft to rub against it all the time while being sealed.

Leo Rover's wheel and motor
Metal tube protecting the wheel’s motor

That’s for the mechanical assemblies. Then, all the cables are sealed as they pass through the rover’s components. For example, they emerge from the wheel tube with rubber gaskets and then go into the robot’s main electronics box – all joints are simply sealed with various rubber gaskets.

Leo Rover's cables sealed
Rubber gaskets sealing the cables’ entry points

Also, the Leo Rover’s front camera has a cover. We decided to go with a GoPro glass which is sealed, and it additionally protects the camera’s lenses from being scratched.

Leo Rover’s front camera
Leo Rover’s front camera

When it comes to the battery, all plugs are sealed too. We use the WEIPU plugs that have the IP68 protection class.

WEIPU plug in the Leo Rover’s battery
WEIPU plug in the Leo Rover’s battery

At the top of the Leo Rover, there’s a miniUSB socket with a thread that allows you to seal everything. Provided that you use a dedicated plug (BULGIN PX0441), you can have a watertight USB connection to your external devices.

Leo Rover’s miniUSB socket
Leo Rover’s miniUSB socket

A USB cap comes with the robot by default, rendering the Leo Rover completely sealed.

Leo Rover’s miniUSB cap
Leo Rover’s miniUSB cap

Keep in mind

The only issue that arises here is when adding components to the robot. The Leo Rover itself is completely watertight but this doesn't necessarily apply to the add-ons we provide as these are mostly sourced from our suppliers. So, you have to keep this in mind when mounting additional elements on the vehicle.

Also, we need to point out that the Leo Rover’s construction is watertight as a precaution against mishaps, but it's not designed for default, constant use in water. The rover can handle rain, splash, or even wading in water with its wheels submerged and it can still work, but proper care must be taken afterwards. This may entail opening every component that might have been flooded to let it dry. It might also call for taking out some parts of the rover such as the wheel motors. In sum, the Leo Rover robotic platform is watertight but to a certain degree, we don’t recommend making a diver out of it.

Uncover Leo Rover’s design

If you don’t have your own Leo Rover yet and you’ve been wondering how we made it watertight, now you know all the ins and outs :). And if there are other things concerning the Leo Rover’s design that you’re curious about, make sure to check out this article.

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