By Jim Drury
Texas, Houston, U.S. - Driving NASA's Modular Robotic Vehicle (MRV) looks out of this world - and the leading space agency say this might one day be a possibility.
A future version of the MRV two-seater prototype could be used to travel across other planets.
Developed at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas it's a fully electric vehicle which the agency say is well-suited for busy urban environments.
There are no mechanical linkages to the propulsion, steering, or brake actuators, so the driver can use control inputs that are converted to electrical signals and transmitted by wires to the rover's motors. Turns of the steering wheel are recorded by sensors and sent to computers at the vehicle's rear where they are interpreted immediately, instructing motors in one or all of its four wheels to turn as commanded. A force feedback system in the steering wheel means the driver will feel the same resistance and sensations as a car.
If the steering motor fails, for some reason, the computer system will send signals to a second motor, and an extra computer will take control.
MRV is driven by four independent wheel modules called e-corners. Each e-corner contains a redundant steering actuator, a passive trailing arm suspension, an in-wheel propulsion motor, and a motor-driven friction braking system. Each e-corner can be controlled independently and rotated 180 degrees.
"This two-seater vehicle was designed to meet the growing challenges and demands of urban transportation," said Mason Markee, of the Johnson Space Center. "The MRV would be ideal for daily transportation in an urban environment with a designed top speed of 70 km/hr and range of 100 km of city driving on a single charge of the battery. The size and maneuverability of MRV gives it an advantage in navigating and parking in tight quarters."
A multi-axis joystick allows additional control in some of the more advanced drive modes.
According to NASA, the technologies developed in MRV have direct application in future manned vehicles undertaking missions on the surface of Earth's moon, or Mars. MRV also provides a learning platform to help develop future conventional cars.