Leo Rover inspires inventors

Take a look at this autonomous golf cart project.

January 31, 2023


Aleksandra Szczepaniak

autonomous golf cart
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 cart project :)

From idea to project

Eric Piraux – a passionate golfer, software craftsman and the brain behind z-Index – shared his story about his Leo Rover application.

Eric Piraux
Eric Piraux
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:
"I play golf, and like any golfer, I use a cart to carry my bag that I drive along the course. I own a Tesla, and like any Tesla driver, I let myself be driven by the autonomous driving system (FSD). Autonomous driving? Golf cart? Why shouldn't the golf cart become autonomous too?"

So that’s how the idea arose. Eric’s 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 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
A Leo Rover robot driving on grass
credit: Eric Piraux

The second prototype 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 robot frees users from proprietary technology as it’s based on ROS – the most widely used open-source framework 
  • Price – the 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, 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 the Leo Rover allows them to learn the basics of robotics and develop their algorithms, but it also makes a good model for their cart, as both the hardware and software architecture is right there, ready to be replicated. Thus, the Leo Rover robot 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.

The golf cart project is currently underway. Here's what an early prototype looked like:

Autonomous golf cart prototype
The golf cart prototype in the development phase
Photo credit: Eric Piraux

Further advancements to the prototype will include adding a second motor and decoupling the two wheels. The hardware is going to resemble that of the Leo Rover robot, 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

Currently, the team is deciding on other hardware elements (some of which are yet to be chosen):

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.

In this video, you can take a peek at the current prototype:

Golf cart project’s prospects

So, what’s in store for the project? A third version of the prototype is currently under development and, as mentioned, there will be 5 iterations in the end to have a first demonstrable product. For now, Eric plans to keep working on the prototype till the end of summer and then, raise funds for the startup and develop the product. There should be several prototypes ready by the end of summer so that golfers can test them in action and provide feedback.

From golf course to space

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

If you want to find out more about Eric and z-Index, visit the company’s website.

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

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