Carnegie Mellon University
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Sun Synchronous Navigation (Hyperion)
This project is no longer active.
Head: William (Red) L. Whittaker
Contact: David Wettergreen
Mailing address:
Carnegie Mellon University
Robotics Institute
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Associated center(s) / consortia:
 Field Robotics Center (FRC)
Project Homepage
The objective of this research is to discover, express, and exhibit the importance of reasoning about sunlight as it pertains to robotic exploration.

  • We are developing sun-cognizant path and temporal planning software for rovers to dodge shadows, seek sun, and drive sun-synchronous routes. This requires planning capable of autonomous navigation in partially known, time-varying environments with additional considerations of power and thermal management.
  • We are investigating algorithms that incorporate scheduling and temporal reasoning, modeling of light and ephemeris with autonomous navigation.
  • We are prototyping a robot, named Hyperion, to exploit the advantages and meet the challenges of sun-synchrony. We have conceived Hyperion as a vehicle physically capable of speeds of about 1/2 meter per second at a maximum locomotive power consumption of 150W. It has a wheel-base of approximately 2 meters by 2 meters to provide stable support for its 3 square meter, vertically mounted solar panel. The vehicle and power system have mass of approximately 70 kilograms with the sensors, electronics and computing payload adding 50 kilograms and a steady power consumption of 90W. Design refinements and component tests are currently underway.
  • We intend a field experiment in a polar planetary-analog setting in a location of continual direct sunlight. We will collaborate with the NASA Haughton-Mars Project and conduct experiments on Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada in July 2001. Our aim is to verify the algorithms for combining sun-seeking with autonomous navigation and to validate the parameters that will allow sun-synchronous explorers to be scaled for other planetary bodies. The viability of sun-synchronous circumnavigation is dependant upon parameters such as planet diameter, axial tilt, rotation period, surface gravity, and solar irradiance.
  • We will scale and generalize results of studies and Earth-bound experiments to other planetary bodies.