Benefit of "Push-pull" Locomotion for Planetary Rover Mobility

Colin Creager, Scott Jared Moreland, Krzysztof Skonieczny, Kyle Johnson, Vivake Asnani, and Ryan Gilligan
Earth and Space Conference, April, 2012.

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As NASA’s exploration missions on planetary terrains become more aggressive, a focus on alternative modes of locomotion for rovers is necessary. In addition to climbing steep slopes, the terrain in these extreme environments is often unknown and can be extremely hard to traverse, increasing the likelihood of a vehicle or robot becoming damaged or immobilized. The conventional driving mode in which all wheels are either driven or free-rolling is very efficient on flat hard ground, but does not always provide enough traction to propel the vehicle through soft or steep terrain. This paper presents an alternative mode of travel and investigates the fundamental differences between these locomotion modes. The methods of “push- pull” locomotion discussed can be used with articulated wheeled vehicles and are identified as “walking” or “inching/inch-worming”. In both cases, the braked non- rolling wheels provide increased thrust. An in-depth study of how soil reacts under a rolling wheel vs. a braked wheel was performed by visually observing the motion of particles beneath the surface. This novel technique consists of driving or dragging a wheel in a soil bin against a transparent wall while high resolution, high-rate photographs are taken. Optical flow software was then used to determine shearing patterns in the soil. Different failure modes were observed for the rolling and braked wheel cases. A quantitative comparison of inching vs. conventional driving was also performed on a full-scale vehicle through a series of drawbar pull tests in the Lunar terrain strength simulant, GRC-1. The effect of tire stiffness was also compared; typically compliant tires provide better traction when driving in soft soil, however it’s been observed that rigid wheels may provide better thrust when non-rolling. Initial tests indicate up to a possible 40% increase in pull force capability at high slip when inching vs. rolling.

rover, mobility, terramechanics

Associated Center(s) / Consortia: Field Robotics Center
Associated Project(s): Lunar Rover Initiative

Text Reference
Colin Creager, Scott Jared Moreland, Krzysztof Skonieczny, Kyle Johnson, Vivake Asnani, and Ryan Gilligan, "Benefit of "Push-pull" Locomotion for Planetary Rover Mobility," Earth and Space Conference, April, 2012.

BibTeX Reference
   author = "Colin Creager and Scott Jared Moreland and Krzysztof Skonieczny and Kyle Johnson and Vivake Asnani and Ryan Gilligan",
   title = "Benefit of "Push-pull" Locomotion for Planetary Rover Mobility",
   booktitle = "Earth and Space Conference",
   month = "April",
   year = "2012",