This Autonomous Rover Will Keep Driving as Long as the Sun Is Shining

RCtestflight's solar-powered rover is a great example of hobbyist autonomous vehicles.

Cameron Coward
4 months agoRobotics / 3D Printing / Drones

We now live in a world where robots are capable of operating completely autonomously — at least under expected operating conditions. Self-driving cars are almost certainly right around the corner, and even today many high-end cars can mostly drive themselves and only require human intervention for the sake of safety. Surprisingly, this kind of capability can be built for far less money than most people would expect. It’s entirely possible for hobbyists to build their own autonomous robots, and this solar-powered rover built by RCtestflight is a great example.

As the name suggests, the RCtestflight YouTube channel is usually focused on remote control aircraft such as this glider equipped with autopilot. They’ve also built an autonomous boat running ArduRover that had a Tupperware container hull. In their most recent video, they’ve turned back to ArduRover to build an autonomous rover that can keep driving around as long as the sun is shining. ArduRover is an offshoot of the popular ArduPilot flight controller firmware, which is designed to allow multirotor drones to fly around autonomously. Other offshoots are designed for submarines and even agricultural equipment. The ArduRover version is, of course, intended for wheeled ground-based robots — though it is also suitable for boats.

This particular ArduRover robot build is designed for long term operation and receives power from a pair of solar panels that cover the entire top of the robot. The frame was constructed from welded steel and is articulated to ensure all four wheels remain in contact with the ground. Each wheel is driven by its own brushless gear motor. Those motors came with built-in ESCs, but they ended up being replaced by standard hobby ESCs. The tires were equipped with 3D-printed treads to increase traction. It isn’t explicitly stated in the video, but it’s likely that this rover is using the same Pixhawk PX4 controller that the Tupperware boat had. Unfortunately, the original motor gearboxes proved to be insufficient, so in the next video RCtestflight will be replacing those with 3D-printed cycloidal drive gearboxes.

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