11 research papers on robot development you should read

Discover a number of academic publications devoted to building and improving rovers’ design.

September 20, 2022


Aleksandra Szczepaniak


This article presents a list of research papers and dissertations on developing rovers available on the Internet, mostly focusing on improving the design of existing vehicles so that they could overcome a certain difficulty that had been posing a challenge of some sort. Read on :)

The Challenges of Designing the Rocker-Bogie Suspension for the Mars Exploration Rover

B. D. Harrington, C. Voorhees

See the paper

The paper is devoted to the rocker-bogie suspension of the Mars Exploration Rover, which is a mechanism that allows a six-wheeled vehicle to passively maintain contact between all six wheels and the ground, even on extremely rough terrain. It also provides the rover with a mobility system and the ability to absorb significant loads while driving.

The system was successfully applied in Mars Pathfinder's Sojourner Rover. The application of a rocker-bogie suspension was the first choice when the Mars Exploration Rover Project had been proposed. MER set a challenge to design a lightweight rocker-bogie suspension that would allow the mobility to fit into the confined space and set up a configuration that the vehicle could then use to exit the lander and explore the surface of Mars.

The paper focuses on the design requirements posed by MER emphasizing the variety of latch and deployment mechanisms used in the design.

Mars Exploration Rover with deployed suspension
Figurefrom the paper presenting the Mars Exploration Rover with deployedsuspension

Concept for Coring from a Low-mass Rover

P. Backes, O. Khatib, A. Diaz-Calderon, J. Warren, C. Collins, Z. Chang

See the paper

This work focuses on core sample acquisition from a low-mass rover from which future Mars missions, including the Mars Sample Return mission, may benefit.

Rover concept for coring tool
Figure from the paper presenting a rover-tool concept

Currently, manipulation from Mars rovers is carried out assuming the rover functions as a stationary, stable platform for the arm. The paper provides a scenario of the MSR mission with a low-mass rover and the studied technology needs. It also presents models for alternative kinds of coring tools as well as tool-environment interaction introduced together with models of wheel-soil interaction in a simulation environment.

Future Mars rover missions, such as the aforementioned MSR mission, may require minimizing mission costs by decreasing the rover’s weight. A rover-tool concept was established to serve as a context for the paper. In order to simulate coring operations, a simulation system was developed, and to test core sample acquisition, a coring testbed was elaborated.

ORYX 2.0: A Planetary Exploration Mobility Platform

J. L. Amato, J. J. Anderson, T. J. Carlone, M.l E. Fagan

See the paper

This paper, by four Worcester Polytechnic Institute undergraduate students, is devoted to the eponymous ORYX 2.0 – a modular mobility platform designed to operate in rugged terrain to simplify both space-related technology research and exploration missions on Earth.

Modular mobility platform ORYX 2.0
Figurefrom the paper presenting a model of the completed rover

ORYX 2.0 was developed to serve as a platform able to operate in analog lunar or Martian environments and endure severe conditions on Earth while, concurrently, offering users numerous features to ease payload integration.

The vehicle design focused on features considered crucial for most planetary exploration missions such as basic navigation, mobility, intuitive user controls, low mass, and small size. The rover was also developed to be low-cost, sturdy and modular to enable easy additions of Commercial-Off-The-Shelf or custom hardware components.

By creating such a vehicle, the authors aimed at facilitating the development of rovers along with their related technologies, as well as reducing development costs. At the same time, the authors leave room for testing and improvement on the elaborated rover.

Mechanical Design of the Mars Pathfinder Mission

H. J. Eisen, C. W. Buck, G. R. Gillis-Smith, J. W. Umland

See the paper

As the title suggests, the work focuses on the Mars Pathfinder Mission, and more specifically, on its design. The aforementioned mission was a remarkable accomplishment for NASA and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) which developed the Pathfinder lander along with the Sojourner rover. What was critical to the success of the intricate entry sequence and landing operations, was the mechanical design of the hardware.

Many different mechanisms with varying technologies and heritage were used. Those mechanisms played a key role in the Pathfinder mission which far exceeded the expectations.

Mars Pathfinder thermal test
Figure from the paper presenting Mars Pathfinder thermal test: IMP stowed, lander petals, IMP and ramp deployed

2011 Oregon State Mars Rover Design Report

F. Kapsenberg, C. Hyman, T. Morton, T. Slone, B. Porter, J. Hortnagl, R. Felber

See the paper

This report functions as both an overview and insight into the technical aspects of the 2011 Oregon State University Mars Rover. The robot was built to vie in the 5th edition of the University Rover Challenge – the world’s leading robotics competition for college students, held annually in Utah, USA, and hosted by The Mars Society. The 2011 OSU Mars Rover was their 4th entry to the URC, taking third place.

The design may, at first glance, seem unchanged compared to the one from 2010. However, in the 2011 Mars rover, there was put significantly more ambitious effort into engineering.

OSU Mars rover
Figurefrom the paper presenting the 2011 OSU Mars Rover (setup with scoopend effector)

VEVI: A Virtual Environment Teleoperations Interface for Planetary Exploration

B. Hine, P. Hontalas, T. Fong, L. Piguet, E. Nygren, A. Kline

See the paper

This work describes a Virtual Environment Vehicle Interface (VEVI) – the operator interface of an architecture for supporting science exploration robots in the presence of high time delays in communication. The system was developed by the Intelligent Mechanisms Laboratory at the NASA Ames Research Center in light of difficulties related to remotely operating intricate robotic mechanisms in unstructured natural environments.

When the time delay in communication between the control station and the remote mechanism is huge, as in the case of a Mars rover controlled from Earth, the difficulties become immense. Typical approaches, for instance, rate control of the vehicle actuators, are too ineffective and risky. And this is where the VEVI design came in. This paper concentrates on the previously mentioned system describing the current, at that time, operational version of it. The work delineates the philosophy and implementation of the VEVI design and presents some prior examples of its application in field science exploration missions.

operator view of the MEL vehicle from within the VEVI 3D renderer
Figure from the paper presenting the operator view of the MEL vehicle from within the VEVI 3D renderer

Stereo Vision and Rover Navigation Software for Planetary Exploration

S. B. Goldberg, M. W. Maimone, L. Matthies

See the paper

In 2004, two twin rovers – Spirit and Opportunity – landed on the surface of the Red Planet as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover missions. The robots had the ability to safely navigate through unfamiliar and potentially hazardous terrain as they were equipped with autonomous passive stereo vision allowing the vehicles for detecting potential terrain hazards before approaching them. Unfortunately, the computational power of then available radiation-hardened processors restricts the amount of distance that any rover can safely reach within a given time frame.

This paper presents an overview of the authors’ rover vision and navigation system in order to provide context for the calculation types required for safe navigation. It also shows baseline timing results that constitute the lower limit of achievable performance, as well as describes ways to enhance that performance with the use of commercial-grade processors.

Planetary exploration rover on the test obstacle course
Figurefrom the paper presenting a picture of the test obstacle course andthe rover

n addition to this, the authors of the work address an analysis of radiation effects which suggests that commercial-grade processors may be suitable for missions to the surface of Mars, and discuss the acceleration level that may result from using such processors in place of radiation-hardened ones.

Design and Analysis of a Four Wheeled Planetary Rover

M. J. Roman

See the paper

This thesis is devoted to Solar Rover-II which is a four-wheeled robot with the ability to traverse rugged terrain using an efficient suspension system with a high degree of mobility. The main mechanical feature of the SR-II design is the simplicity of the propulsion system, which was achieved by using only two motors for mobility. Both motors are placed inside the body with thermal variation kept to a minimum, increasing reliability and performance.

On the natural terrain, there are only a few obstacles that require both front wheels of the rover to climb at the same time and because of that, four wheels were used in this design. A series of mobility experiments conducted in the Southern California desert showed that the SR-II could reach more than 1 km traverses on Mars-like surface within 6 hours of peak solar energy daily.

This thesis aimed at designing and building a mobile vehicle for long-distance travel over terrain similar to the surface of the Red Planet. The priority concern of the design was to maintain a high degree of mobility in difficult terrain while facilitating the suspension and drive-train.

Robot manipulator technologies for planetary exploration

H. Das, X. Bao, Y. Bar-Cohen, R. Bonitz, R. Lindemann, M. Maimone, I. Nesnas, C. Voorhees

See the paper

NASA exploration missions to the Red Planet, initiated by the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997, require challenging robot design innovations and autonomy improvements to achieve aspiring goals under time constraints and tight budget.

By developing design tools, component technologies, and capabilities, the authors of this paper address those manipulation requirements with planetary exploration robots. Particular developments are a software analysis tool for reducing robot design iteration cycles and optimization of design solutions, new piezoelectric ultrasonic motors for high and light-weight torque actuation in planetary environments, application of advanced materials and structures for light and strong robotic arms, and, finally, intelligent camera image coordinated autonomous control of robot arms for placing instruments and taking samples from a rover.

This publication covers the subject of the Planetary Dextrous Manipulators task at the Jet  Propulsion Laboratory in 1998. PDM is NASA’s research in the field of telerobotics research aimed at developing and presenting new technologies that enable or enhance manipulation capabilities in planetary exploration.

Design of a Mars Rover Suspension Mechanism

F. Barlas

See the paper

This dissertation focuses on a new design of the suspension mechanism of a planetary exploration rover in light of a challenging problem which is rovers’ low operation speed. The research also provides a discussion of the results of the design’s kinematic analysis.

Developed in the late 1990s, a conventional rocker-bogie suspension mechanism features superb weight distribution for various positions on a rough surface. The new design presented in this paper, extensively resembling a rocker-bogie suspension system, has a natural advantage due to the linear bogie motion which prevents the entire system from tipping over during high-speed operations. This enhancement augments the reliability of the structure during field operations. It also allows for higher speed exploration with the same capacity of obstacle height as a rocker bogie.

The paper also introduces a new structural synthesis formula for suspension mechanisms with higher and lower kinematics pairs. Using such methods, the suspension mechanism was designed with a double-lambda mechanism.

Linear Bogie Suspension rover design
Figure from the paper presenting experimental suspension design LBS (Linear Bogie Suspension)

Design Optimization of a Mars Rover’s Rocker-Bogie Mechanism using Genetic Algorithms

F. Ullrich, A. H. Goktogan, S. Sukkarieh

See the paper

This work presents the authors’ findings on optimizing a specific suspension system – the “rocker-bogie” – for their Martian rover. Such a mechanism has been commonly used on the rovers on Mars proving to be a simple and neat design.

The paper defines the most significant performance metrics for a planetary exploration rover. The authors show the effectiveness of optimizing a rocker-bogie suspension system with the use of a Genetic Algorithm. It is also revealed that the resulting system meets all constraints, which significantly decreases the individual performance metrics as well as the overall system.

The list doesn’t end here

These 11 articles were the ones on which we based our research when we started our journey in robotics, but we're sure there are plenty more in the abyss of the Internet waiting to be found. If you know any or are an author of a related paper, we'd love to read it and add it to the list.

Feel free to ping us at contact@fictionlab.pl. We'd be happy to hear from you.

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