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Rover: PolyOrbite stands out at the Canadian International Rover Challenge for the second year in a row

August 23, 2022 - Source : NEWS

Polytechnique Montréal’s technical society participated in the Canadian International Rover Challenge (CIRC), the skills competition for rovers, in Drumheller, Alberta, from August 12 to 15, 2022. In their second year participating, Polytechnique students placed sixth with their new prototype NESSIE, earning the highest spot among Québec teams.

PolyOrbite 2022
PolyOrbite delegation with their prototype NESSIE at the CIRC competition.

PolyOrbite, which designs and manufactures a CubeSat satellite and a rover, comprises some 70 members, half of whom are focused on developing the rover. Ten students flew to Alberta this year.

A rover is a vehicle designed to explore and study the surface of a planet. It is usually controlled remotely from a control centre, but it is partially autonomous. A rover is generally used for scientific research purposes, including imaging and sample collection, among other things.

“A project such as building a rover capable of remotely performing highly precise scientific or technical tasks requires the input of all the engineering specialties at Polytechnique,” explains Hubert Pilote, Administrative Director of PolyOrbite’s Rover department in 2022–2023 and a bachelor’s student in aerospace engineering. “From mechanical engineering to chemical and geological engineering to computer and software engineering, everyone has a part to play. This type of competition gives us a glimpse into the reality of the field that we’re all passionate about!”

The theme of this fifth edition of CIRC, “Disaster has struck the Martian settlement!” was about carrying out a mission to Mars after an accident at a nuclear facility. The competition was held in the Canadian Badlands region of Alberta, which is known for its abundance of fossils and resemblance to Mars due to its desert-like appearance.

A rover with innovative technology

After their inaugural entry in 2021, PolyOrbite members worked hard for their second participation in the competition and unveiled a brand-new prototype called New Endearing System for Sophisticated Interplanetary Exploration, whose acronym NESSIE is a nod to the rover’s resemblance to the legendary Loch Ness monster.

“During the thousands of hours we put into this project, we encountered difficulties throughout the process, whether it was during the design, the construction or the simulation tests,” Mr. Pilote says. “The mistakes we made and the problems we encountered are now experience we’ve gained that will make us better engineers.”

Technical details of NESSIE: 

  • Weight: 45 kg, the lightest rover in the competition, thanks to the use of few screws and steel
  • Six very small, studded wheels, printed in 3D at Polytechnique, inspired by the wheel style of the rovers currently on Mars
  • Five cameras
  • Articulated arm installed at the front
  • Aluminum structure
  • Rechargeable lead batteries with several hours of life
  • Main on-board computer: Jetson TX2 board
  • Secondary computers: Arduino boards
  • Antennas on the rover and on the ground station for remote control, with a delay of one to two seconds

Several new technologies were developed by PolyOrbite members to build this new prototype, including the following:

  • A rocker-bogie suspension system that can climb any type of terrain, manufactured at Protocase
  • A robotic arm named R3X, with six rotary axes, printed in nylon and polylactic acid (PLA), with a few aluminum parts, capable of lifting 1 kg. This arm was assembled and reworked entirely by Polytechnique graduates as part of a final project in mechanical and electrical engineering
  • A multifunctional gripper for the robotic arm designed, printed and assembled entirely at PolyFab Normand Brais, which includes self-adaptive finger technology developed by Professor Lionel Birglen of Polytechnique’s Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • A GNSS sensor with an accelerator and gyroscope, enabling precise measurement of the direction and GPS position of the rover
  • An autonomous movement and obstacle-avoidance algorithm based on the use of two sonars that detect obstacles by ultrasound
  • A printed circuit board designed by PolyOrbite to facilitate connections between the motor controllers and the on-board computer
  • A computer vision algorithm used to detect ArUco codes from any camera on the rover
  • Antennas using 2.4 GHz frequency bands to limit the impact of obstacles on the ground on the signal strength between the rover and the ground station
  • A fan cooling system

“PolyOrbite stood out in the competition with its bright red rocker-bogie! It wowed the Protocase Inc. representatives in attendance. Our robotic arm and the multifunction gripper also impressed the other teams,” says Katherine Zamudio-Turcotte, Executive Director of PolyOrbite in 2022–2023 and a bachelor’s student in computer engineering.

Some of the improvements PolyOrbite members intend to make for the next competition include developing a robotic arm designed entirely by the members of the technical society, equipped with six axes and made of carbon fibre for good resistance while minimizing weight, and using artificial intelligence on board the rover, both to maximize movement accuracy and to enable the robotic arm to recognize and pick up objects itself.

“What makes us strong is our creativity and our desire to innovate,” Ms. Zamudio-Turcotte concludes. “We speak with Polytechnique professors to get insights into the most advanced technologies in the field of robotics. We experiment with a variety of materials and 3D printing technologies. There is no shortage of ideas to improve our next prototype!”

Congratulations to the members of PolyOrbite!

Learn more

Website of the PolyOrbite technical society (in French)
Website of the Canadian International Rover Challenge


Suggested Reading

August 12, 2021

Rovers: PolyOrbite will represent Polytechnique Montréal at the Canadian International Rover Challenge competition

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2011 Canadian Engineering Competition: Polytechnique places third in Innovative Design