Leo Rover inspires inventors

Take a look at this autonomous golf push cart project.

March 17, 2023


Aleksandra Szczepaniak

autonomous golf push cart
Photo credit: Eric Piraux

The Leo Rover robotic platform proved more than once that being both open-source and based on ROS – the most common open-source framework used by millions worldwide – it can serve as an essential element of your project’s workflow. Here’s how a Leo Rover has contributed to an autonomous golf trolley project :)

From idea to project

Eric Piraux – a passionate golfer, software craftsman and entrepreneur – shared his story about his Leo Rover application.

Eric Piraux
Eric Piraux
Photo credit: Eric Piraux

It all started out as an idea. Then, the idea turned into a project which, in turn, grew into a startup. But first things first.

As Eric says:
„When I play golf, I don’t like to play with a trolley, I prefer to carry my bag. Why? Simply because the trolley is perceived more as a constraint than a help. You have to manage it on the course, you can’t go everywhere… but I have to admit that a golf bag is heavy to carry!”

At some point in May 2021, Eric felt the need to pivot from his then professional life path. But doing so called for a plan.

„It is then that on my way home from work, I am driving on the highway in a Tesla Model S, the autopilot engaged, my head lost in my thoughts, when a simple idea imposes itself in my mind: ‘If a Tesla manages to drive automatically in an environment as complex as a highway, why couldn’t we make a golf trolley drive autonomously on a course?’” – says the golfer.

Voila. The plan was born. Eric and his team wasted no time – they rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

As the project advanced, there emerged challenges to be met. How to develop a golf push cart from a blank page and give it an „intelligent” behavior? What steps have to be taken to get to a MVP (Minimum Viable Product)? – these are the questions that the team asked themselves along the way.

They decided that the best way to approach the development would be to divide it into 5 prototypes, from the simplest to the most elaborate one.

You got to walk before you run, so they started small, literally. The project’s first prototype, the simplest one, was JetBot – a tiny open-source robot based on NVIDIA Jetson Nano. The prototype served as a model for the team to assess their level of knowledge in Machine Learning and robotics.

Leo Rover takes the field

Leo Rover mobile robot
Eric's Leo Rover mobile robot driving on grass
Photo credit: Eric Piraux

The second prototype in the autonomous golf trolley project was supposed to be a rover available on the market that would enable the team to develop their algorithms and try them out in action. And this is where a Leo Rover came into play. As Eric put it: "A quick tour of the market led us to choose Leo Rover". The robot best lived up to the following criteria the team set:

  • Open source – the Leo Rover system’s integration is open-source, well documented and comes with numerous practical examples,
  • ROS – the Leo Rover mobile robot frees users from proprietary technology as it’s based on ROS – the most widely used open-source framework, 
  • Price – Eric and his team found the rover’s cost very reasonable and highly making up for the time it would take to develop a robot of this kind on their own,
  • Support – even before the purchase, the Leo Rover team was always there, ready to help and, and as Eric highlights – it stayed that way during the project development.

It didn’t take long for Eric’s team to realize that not only does the Leo Rover mobile robot allow them to learn the basics of robotics and develop their algorithms, but it also makes a good model for their push cart, as both the hardware and software architecture is right there, ready to be replicated. Thus, the Leo Rover robotic platform is a crucial part of the whole workflow, where the team first tests basic ideas on a small scale, then, uses the robot in the field to finally integrate it into the real solution.

Here's what an early prototype of the golf push cart looked like:

Autonomous golf trolley prototype
A golf push cart prototype in the development phase
Photo credit: Eric Piraux

Further advancements to the prototype included adding a second motor and decoupling the two wheels. The hardware resembles that of the Leo Rover robotic platform, including 2 motors of the following parameters: 130W/12V dc/17A/3500 rpm, and 2 controllers of this kind:

wheel controller
Photo source: electricgolftrolleyspares.com

At some point along the way, the team was deciding on other hardware elements such as:

Instead of LiDAR, navigation will be based only on GPS, odometry and camera.

When it comes to the software architecture, it’s going to be similar to that of a Leo Rover as well. In the first phase, the project will rely on ROS 1 but, later, the team will certainly go for ROS 2, as Eric assures.

Autonomous golf trolley project’s prospects

So what’s in store for the project? Well, a lot has been done since launching this enterprise. Some of the prototypes were tested by golfers who provided feedback crucial for further advancements that have been implemented.

Additionally, the project's development gave rise to a startup – Botronics – that Eric, along with his associates, founded in 2022. At it, they work at full throttle on the autonomous golf trolley. What's more, the project has gained an official name – Otto Project. You can find more info on it here. Also, check out the video below:

Botronics’ online shop with their MVP is already up and running. But working on the autonomous golf trolley wasn't always smooth. For example, at some point, the Botronics team encountered some difficulties with implementing GPS navigation into their prototype and because of that, they had to take a step back and work with an early prototype again. That’s how the Leo Rover robotic platform made its reappearance in the golf trolley project. To work on the GPS navigation implementation issue, the team equipped their Leo Rover (which now, at Botronics, goes by the name "Leotto" – a hybrid of Leo Rover and Otto Project) with an Nvidia Jetson, ZED 2i camera, GPS u-Blox, and an extra battery along with a converter. And that was a smooth move because it works. Check out Leotto below:

Botronics' Leo Rover with navigation equipment
“Leotto” with the navigation equipment
Photo credit: Eric Piraux

From golf course to space

We know better than anybody that the Leo Rover mobile robot is well suitable for projects like this one where it can serve as a prototyping platform and we’re happy that it could come in handy in Eric Piraux’s work. We keep our fingers crossed for the end result to be just what he and his team hoped for. 

If you want to find out more about Botronics’ autonomous golf push cart project and be up to date with their work, follow them on LinkedIn.

Meanwhile, read about another Leo Rover customer story here, this time about space missions! :)

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