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Modelling cuts development time of robotic space rover

Unmanned planetary exploration is a focus for many space research agencies worldwide today. To do this successfully, advanced autonomous robotic rovers are needed. Dr Amir Khajepour, Canada Research Chair in Mechatronic Vehicle Systems and Professor of Engineering in the Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering department at the University of Waterloo (UW), is working with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Maplesoft, and the Government of Canada, to develop a full solution for the power management system of autonomous rovers. Dr Khajepour is a leading figure in mechatronics and robotics and he has chosen MapleSim, an advanced physical modelling tool from Maplesoft, as a key tool in his project.

The CSA has a strong history of applying symbolic techniques in space robotics modelling. They have used these techniques in the design of various space robots deployed through the Space Shuttle program and the International Space Station. This initiative at UW is using MapleSim, the latest generation of symbolic modelling technology, to rapidly develop high fidelity, multi-domain models of the rover subsystems.

The general goal of the project is to design a rover system that can get the rover from point A to point B, taking into consideration all probable constraints. For example, what would the path be if the rover is to get to a specified location with minimum risk? Alternatively, if the rover is to get to a specified location using minimum energy, what would that path be?

Step one of this three-year project is to develop the initial rover model, including such aspects as battery, solar power-generation, terrain and soil conditions. The project, in its later stages, will also include a full range of Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) testing phases using real-time hardware and software from National Instruments, using system models that have been developed in, and automatically deployed from MapleSim. This is critical for optimising system parameters that will maximise power conservation while still achieving mission goals.

'With the use of MapleSim, the base model of the rover was developed in a month,' says Dr Khajepour. 'The benefits of MapleSim compared to traditional tools are significant. We now have the mathematical model of the six-wheeled rover without writing down a single equation. MapleSim was able to generate an optimum set of equations for the rover system automatically, which is essential in the optimisation phase. The ability to see the model, to see the moving parts, is very important to a model developer.'


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