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  The Red Rover Project
AstroBot Diaries   Design:  Ashley Green   Environments

Red Rover Goes To Mars
The Red Rover Project is a joint initiative between the Planetary Society and the LEGO® Company, aimed at students and home users alike, it is designed to give everyone the experience of exploring an unknown world through the eyes of a robotic Rover. The project recreates many of the functional and operational conditions which face Exploration Rovers (and their designers, engineers, and operators) when exploring another planet.

Through the use of LEGO® Mindstorms components, Technic bricks and accessories, (even a LEGO® Studio Camera), your goal is to build a Rover which meets specific mission and operational objectives. These can be as simple as navigating around an obstacle, to fulfilling a complex set of related tasks. Your operational terrain is a simulated Mars environment, complete with site specific geographic features, Your aim is to explore and discover as much as you can about this alien environment.




The "Mars Station Gusev Crater," hosted by the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) in Madrid, Spain. was constructed to simulate the appearance of one of the two Mars Exploration Rover landing sites, Gusev Crater. The student is controlling the rover locally through a computer, but this Mars Stations also allow visitors to control the rover via the Internet. Learn more about the diorama here.



Special software enables you to control and navigate your Exploration Rover. Using A LEGO® Studio Camera as your Rover’s “eyes”, all control and navigation is performed remotely through a screen based interface. The software allows the user to drive the Rover, with an image panel showing the Rover’s perspective of its environment - you to ‘see’ what the Rover sees through its camera. You can control external sensors and motors to perform a variety of tasks: Drill holes, pick up objects, take sensor readings, etc.. . Rover commands are transmitted from the Computer (via Infrared transmitter) to a LEGO® RCX Brick which is in tern linked to the Rover.

This concept is very similar to the way real exploration Rovers are controlled, albeit they use High frequency UHF for communication, and have many sensors to choose from when viewing surrounding terrain, the idea of remote operation is the same. Learn more about Rover control here.


    Rovers designed for the Red Rover Project fall into one of three categories:


Design:  Emily LakdawallaMarie Curie
Marie Curie Class Rovers are small, tethered rovers that carry a camera (either LEGO® Vision Command or LEGO® Studios Camera or Logitech QuickCam) and have no other sensors. They do not carry the RCX; the RCX that controls the Rover sits next to the computer, and the Rover is tethered to the computer using long wires. (Why? This allows the RCX to receive power from a power supply instead of eating batteries, and the camera tethers the rover to the computer anyway.)


Design: Alex WitherspoonRocky
Rocky Class Rovers are similar to Marie Curie class rovers: They are small, tethered rovers that carry a camera but not the RCX. They are different from Marie Curie rovers in that they also carry an extra motorized device (for example, a robotic arm, moveable camera mount, collision sensor, or a Core Drill) that can be operated through programs stored on the RCX.


Design: Patrick PilvinesAthena
Athena Class Rovers are completely wireless rovers, carrying a wireless (X10 or other) camera and the RCX. The Infrared transmitting tower (connected to the computer) is mounted over the operating environment, so the rover is not tethered to the computer. Like the Rocky class of rovers, Athena class rovers may also, but are not required to, carry an additional motorized device.


Check out more Rover designs for each of these categoties here.



The Real Deal

Operating environment
The Red Rover project calls for a simulated Martian environment in which your LEGO® Rover explores. Typically these environments (dioramas) represent a specific geographic location of Mars, but for those of you reading this at home, a few well placed magazines, rumpled hallway rug, and the odd shoe also make for a challenging exploration environment.

Mars Station  Melas Chasma, Valles MarinerisThe Red Rover project is aimed a schools and educational institutions around the world, and as such, many operational dioramas have been constructed. Each of these ‘Mars Stations’ consists of a diorama representing an area of Mars, a LEGO® Rover (equipped with a Web camera), and special control software, which allows you to log on and remotely drive and control the Rover over the internet. At some Mars Stations, you will be offered challenges: discovering certain rocks, retrieving valuable samples, or safely traversing a rock-strewn plain– Pretty cool. Visit the on-line Mars Stations here.


The Red Rover Project is an exciting way to learn about the unique challenges in designing and operating Exploration Rovers. The Mars Stations allow you to explore a simulated Mars world remotely, running the Rover around to see what’s just beyond the field of view, or what’s behind that rock. What is most evident though is that controlling the Rover remotely, over the internet, (or through space for that matter), is not as easy as driving a remote controlled car that you can see.

The Planetary Society is actively involved with ongoing support for the Mars Exploration Program with initiatives such as the Astrobot Diaries, and the Student Astronauts, programs. The Society is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, funded by dues and donations from individuals around the world. Learn more about the Planetary Society here.



The Planetary Society's Red Rover Goes to Mars Project
With the Red Rover Goes to Mars project, The Planetary Society and the LEGO®
Company have partnered to provide hands-on opportunities for students around the world to participate directly in real missions to Mars.

In 2001, a team of students traveled to Malin Space Science Systems to operate the
camera aboard the Mars Global Surveyor mission, currently in orbit around Mars. A year later, a different group of students worked at the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory learning to operate the FIDO rover, a prototype rover designed to support upcoming NASA Mars missions. And, in early 2004, a team of Red Rover Goes to Mars Student Astronauts will work inside mission operations
at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory while the Mars Exploration Rovers explore
the Red Planet.

Learn more here about student Astronauts. Meet the winners and finalists here who are
off to JPL early next year.


To control your Rover through a Computer (or over the internet) you will need some special software. Such software is usually free for download for use at home,

Software included with the Planetary Society’s Red Rover, Red Rover classroom pack, is free for trial/home use, while you have to buy the LEGO® Exploration Mars set before you can use its' software. Both of these packages operate a single Rover through a screen based interface. Typically the Rover is close by (Maybe in the next Room), and the Infrared transmitter is connected directly to the computer.

The original Sojourner Control Room

However there are other software packages which enable you to remotely control Rovers over the internet, where the Rover might be in a different building, or even country. The Planetary Society’s on-line Mars Stations use this type of software. Some cleaver people have written their own software which enables you control your Rover over the internet.

Web Enabled Rover Controllers
Web Brick

WebCam Servers/Vision APIs
LeJOS Vision System

Marie Curie M.O.P Configuration

The Modular Ordinance Platform (M.O.P) is a general purpose Rover chassis which is capable of supporting many different operational configurations and mission requirements. The Marie Curie Configuration of the M.O.P is a small tethered Rover with all power and data being supplied by long (120cm) electric cables connected to an external LEGO® RCX.

Learn more about the Marie Curie M.O.P here


Ever wondered how a Rover works? Check out Rover TechNotes to discover how a Rover operates and explores on distant worlds.

Learn more about Rovers here


The Planetary Society was founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman to encourage the exploration of our solar system and the search for extraterrestrial life.

The Society is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, funded by dues and donations from individuals around the world. With more than 100,000 members from over 140 countries, we are the largest space interest group on Earth. Membership is open to all people interested in our mission.

Learn more about the Planetary Society here

The Planetary Society
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