Skid-steering is a method to turn a vehicle by controlling its wheels (or tracks) at different speeds, allowing vehicles to turn on the spot. Skid steer is a popular design approach and is pervasive on CSA’s fleet of prototype rovers. This approach allows rover designers to reduce the complexity and increase the robustness of a planetary rover’s mechanical system. However, steering vehicles by skidding is more energy consuming than traditional steering methods, which turn individual wheels. Given strict constraints on power for space missions, use of skid steer on planetary missions has been limited thus far. Through funding from CSA, Mission Control is developing path-planning software that optimizes the control of a skid-steer rover to minimize power consumption. Mission Control’s SSO software will provide input to rover operators and autonomous driving software by maximizing mission operations and optimizing drive sequences.
Skid-Steer Optimization compliments our Autonomous Soil Assessment System (ASAS) project, where we are increasing safety in rough terrain – while also leveraging our expertise in rover design, robotic controls and mission operations. SSO and ASAS are great examples of software-as-a-payload technologies for low-cost Canadian contributions to upcoming international rover missions. Mission Control’s work in this field will ultimately allow designers to conduct better, more informed tradeoffs between efficiency and reliability for rover designs. The goal with this project is to offer an analytical model that can be applied to many different rovers and terrains. Similar to ASAS, Mission Control strives to develop software as a payload in order to maximize the potential for eventual flight missions for such a system.
The development and validation of the SSO will offer multiple benefits to Canadian industries of planetary exploration and autonomous vehicle development by providing new Canadian industrial capabilities.