It’s just not practical for a private citizen to own an actual car-sized NASA Mars rover, as cool as that would be. But with an assist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, you can build a mini version to explore your own backyard.
The JPL Open Source Rover Project tells you everything you need to know to build a scaled-down rover.
While the actual Curiosity rover cost into the billions in US dollars, NASA estimates you can makes its mini-me for about $2,500 (£1,900, AU$3,400) using off-the-shelf parts. JPL published the detailed open-source design on GitHub.
The model wouldn’t survive the rigors of Mars, but it does incorporate some of Curiosity’s key design features, including six-wheel steering and Rocker-Bogie suspension. That suspension system keeps all the wheels in contact with the ground while the vehicle’s tackling obstacles.
The little rover uses a Raspberry Pi for a brain and can be made to work with a range of devices, including an Xbox controller or an Android app. The rover model can be customized and it can be made to look pretty cute. JPL built a demonstration version with a light-up smiling face.
Anybody who tackles this project will have a chance to develop skills related to fabrication, electronics and software. JPL says most of the skills can be picked up fairly quickly from watching videos and doing research on the internet.
NASA hopes the open-source plans will inspire the creation of a fleet of rovers. On the plus side, your rover will have a pretty good chance of finding signs of life here on Earth.