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It’s very much a red planet in the Utah high desert,” Boggeri says. “There’s iron oxide in the dirt, so it’s red. It’s in a rocky flood plain and it’s got very fine silt. Other than the heat, it’s the most damaging thing for the camera. Really fine dust gets all over your electronics; it gets into everything. There’s small scrub vegetation and large boulders. You drive out, come up and see it and go, ‘Wow!’ It’s like what you’d expect to find on a mission to Mars.”
The UCLA system features a Mini-ITX (compact form factor for motherboards) from Logic Supply (Burlington, Vt.), running a customized version of Ubuntu Linux that handles the high-level communication and control tasks. The Rover operates on client-server architecture, with the Rover acting as the server. Interfacing with the server program through control subroutines are the serial motor controller, Point Grey (Richmond, BC, Canada) Dragonfly2 cameras, and a number of microcontrollers (used for sensor integration).
Other supporters and sponsors include Northrup Grumman Space Technology (Los Angeles), Schlumberger (principle offices in Houston, Texas; Paris, France; and The Hague), a consulting firm that specializes in oil and gas exploration, Atmel (San Jose, Calif.), which makes flash microprocessors, and Solidworks (Concord, Mass., and Santa Monica, Calif.), a 3D CAD company. In addition, the engineering alumni association at UCLA has supported almost 40 projects.
When the Rover is powered on the system boots, logs in, and then initiates the control subroutines and RoboServer and waits for a client to connect. Upon connection, the client computer is presented with a graphical user interface showing the attached sensors and readings, a camera view, the arm control sliders, and the motor control wheel. The client then is able to remotely control the ROVER2. Depending on battery loadout and driving conditions, the ROVER2 is able to continuously operate between one and two hours.
The server and client communicate over an 802.11b primary network with a 900MHz Ethernet data radio network serving as backup. The AX3500 motor and arm controller communicates with RoboServer over the serial port while ATmega microcontrollers gather sensor data and send it over USB.