NASA’s Lego Wars: The Unstoppable DTN Lego Rover versus Lego Curiosity…

NASA, the ESA and engineers around the world are putting Lego to work, sometimes for scientific purposes, sometimes purely for fun. NASA has recently put LEGO to work as their unstoppable remote control rover operated over the internet for space.

The Curiosity Rover is the rock star of interplanetary rovers, satellites love him and other rovers want to be him. It’s only natural then that people might try to emulate their favourite rover using the coloured bricks. Unexpectedly though is the number of NASA engineers doing just that with surprising results.

Video’s of the latest Lego Rovers in action have been included for your viewing pleasure. While the small Curiosity built with standard Lego is a project for everyone, the Mindstorm Curiosity is something more; an animatronic remote controlled Curiosity Rover built to impress.

The ultimate tool of the imaginative child Lego has stood the test of time.  Now it is breaking in to Labs around the world and may be on the verge of entering the space race.

The Unstoppable DTN Lego Rover

ESA’s network testing rover.

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have joined forces to play with Lego, and to test new networking technology that may eventually become the internet for planets. The new networking technology Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) is being developed to withstand the harsh environment of space, satellite failures and solar flares are taken in stride.

US astronaut Sunita Williams took control of the ESA Lego rover while orbiting high in the sky aboard the International Space Station. The experiment took place in late October when Commander Williams was able to send the execute command to the rover located at the ESA Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. Clicking the enter key in this case sent the command on a ground breaking journey over the new DTN network.

The DTN hardware and protocol (Bundled Protocol) used during the experiment are philosophically different to the internet we know today. Typical networks today assume an end-to-end path exists between source and destination, a Disruption Tolerant Network assumes there will be problems.  Hardware wise there is only evolutionary changes required to equipment such as routers. The routers of a DTN wait for a link to be established to the next destination, caching the packet till it can move on, not a radical difference but enough to tolerate changing conditions. Will it ever be introduced to the mobile phone system we wonder?

The rover used during the experiments was based on an actual rover that the ESA hopes to launch in the future.

Stephan Pakbaz’s Lego Curiosity Rover.

The Curiosity Lego Rovers
NASA engineer Stephan Pakbaz built the first Curiosity Lego Rover last year. designing the rover shortly after launching the real thing.

An attempt to persuade Lego to produce the kit which has so fair failed to pay dividends. The design is however now available for download, bringing the little rover to curios Lego builders everywhere. The article provides step by step instructions as well as behind the scenes explanations of the rovers various functions and parts. 313 toy bricks and a few hours are required to assemble to accurate 1:20 scale reproduction. While there is no Plutonium power source for the mini Curiosity many of the other design features have been included. The special articulated suspension, sensor arm and camera pod.

The Curiosity Lego rover has an entry on the CUUSOO Lego community website. If 10,000 pledges can be gained the design will be considered during the quarterly reviews by Lego. One of the most popular entrants will become the latest Lego must have set. The Curiosity Rover is just about to break through 10,000 votes mark, bringing it a step closer to reality. An interesting site in it’s own right, think of CUUSOO as the Kickstarter of the Lego world. Curiosity has some stiff competition on CUUSOO, the Minecraft Lego set will blow your mind.

Mindstorm Curiosity Rover

The big daddy of Lego rovers has to be the Lego Mindstorm Curiosity Rover built by Will Gorman and Doug Moran. Built for the ‘Build the Future in Space’ event at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The rover contains 1000’s of LEGO Technic and MINDSTORMS bricks, and is 100% pure LEGO with no glue. Four of the six wheels are powered, and the rover can make 360 degree turns. The arm and mast are controlled via a separate NXT via bluetooth, and the rover is driven via a separate NXT Joystick designed by Philo Hurbain. A very realistic and highly animated Rover, Mindstorm has been put to dramatic effect here. Watch the video and enjoy.

Have the budget cuts at NASA and the ESA started to really take effect, or has the power of the plastic brick finally won them over? While NASA isn’t willing to comment on brand of plastic coloured brick it prefers they have definitely shown a preference for Lego.

The Curiosity Mindstorm Rover is hands down the winner amongst recent Lego Rover creations, while the ESA rover has an unstoppable network the Curiosity has Mindstorm. Will we one day see a Mars rover made using Lego and a hot glue gun, assembled on arrival at its destination?

Reference: Build your own Curiosity
Reference: Lego CUUSOO Curiosity Rover project
Reference: ExtremeTech: NASA Lego

Related Article: Curiosity: A Grand Entrance