About this project
The Ultimate Robot for Learning!
The Spirit Rover is the next big step in advanced robots for learning, teaching, and all around hacking fun. The robot is outfitted with up to three different computing processors, built with high quality components, and fit into an iconic form factor that any tech nerd can appreciate!
Spirit is a perfect starting point for students and hobbyists looking for an expandable and full featured robot platform. Whether you're new to coding or involved in serious robotics research, the Spirit Rover has something for you.
- Learn and expand your Python coding knowledge
- Learn and expand your C/C++ Arduino skills
- Learn and apply computer vision
- Design your own autonomous rover missions
- Learn and expand advanced Linux skills
A piece of space exploration history - on your desktop!
Programmed with Python and Arduino
Want to learn to code in Python and/or Arduino? Whether you're new to programming or a pro, the capabilities of the Spirit Rover hardware will allow you to grow and apply your skills. Many combinations of programming are possible. Write your code using Python and C/C++ on the Raspberry Pi, or write your code in C/C++ using the free and open source Arduino environment. Our easy to use functions allow seamless communication between the two boards.
Learn Linux and Raspbian OS
You'll learn how to use advanced features of the powerful Linux operating system. Compile your own code, install packages, view hardware information and more.
Three Computer Boards in One Robot
The Spirit Rover robot includes three different computers, just like many other advanced robots you'll find in the real world. You'll learn how these more advanced systems really work at the low level.
A Raspberry Pi computer will handle most of your processing. Though it is optional, it is a powerful computer capable of doing many things at one time. The Pi is similar to the computer inside a tablet computer or small laptop.
An Arduino compatible processor can be used alone or together with the Pi. This is the same processor as found on the popular Arduino UNO board. It is also the same processor (and runs the same code!) as the processor on our Ringo, Wink, and Plumduino boards.
A Microchip PIC processor handles the low level processing on the robot. It does things like sending pulse signals to the servos, reading light sensors, and managing the power system. It is pre-loaded with code. Normally you won't play with this code on your own, but it is still open and hackable if you want to customize it.
Robotics as a Learning Platform
The Spirit Rover robot was designed to be the ultimate robot for teaching, learning, hacking, and research. Spirit is perfect for those just getting started in programming all way through to serious swarming and robotic automation research.
The Spirit Rover combines the two most popular code learning environments: the Raspberry Pi, and the Arduino. We've assembled them together into a single, high quality platform that is easily usable and endlessly hackable.
Start with simple tasks like reading a light sensor and changing the color of a light, then progress into more advanced topics. You will learn how robots use inertial navigation to find their way around, and computer vision to identify objects and obstacles. You'll also learn the basic electronics and communication methods the individual parts robots use to talk to each other. Learn the inner workings of the Linux operating system and how to write your own code in Python and C/C++ languages along the way.
27 NeoPixel Style RGB Lights
The Spirit Rover is packed with personality! It includes 27 RGB "NeoPixel" style LED lights that can be individually set to any color or brightness you like. This includes light up "eyes" (which are actually the send/receive elements of an ultrasonic rangefinder), 12 pixels down each wing, and one pixel on the mainboard that can be used to indicate status or anything else you like.
Using the Raspberry Pi camera, you can begin to learn how computer vision works! You've probably seen examples of this, and it sounds like it would be really complicated. It's actually rather easy to understand.
High Quality Hardware and Gear Motors
The Spirit Rover is built using high quality components. The pan/tilt head assembly, motor mounts, servo mounts, and connecting hardware are stamped metal parts for maximum durability. The plastic frame parts are made from semi-flexible ABS plastic. This plastic is not brittle and will not easily crack.
The rover is designed for best operation to run on smooth surfaces like floors and desktops, though it can still move effectively over more rough surfaces like low pile carpeting.
Retractable Gripper Arms
The Spirit Rover includes a gripper servo that works well for dragging small objects around the work area. The gripper and object can be seen through Spirit's camera.
Gyroscope and Accelerometer - Inertial Navigation
The Spirit Rover includes a 3-axis Accelerometer and a 3-axis Gyroscope. These sensors can be used to sense rotation and movement in all directions. This allows the robot to perform "inertial navigation" to move specific distances and make precise turns.
These are the exact same sensors as used on our Ringo robot, and the functions and code to control them are identical.
The Spirit Rover has many different wireless options that can be combined in various ways.
People interested in doing research for swarming behaviors, factory automation, and mesh networking can use the XBee socket to attach any of the range of XBee modules to the robot. These modules allow for long range networking between the robots.
We included a socket for this module after talking to researchers who ran into limitations attempting to run multiple robots using other protocols like Bluetooth. WiFi is a good solution but does require a bit of work to join networks and the range of WiFi can be limiting in some situations especially in congested WiFi environments.
Easy Access to Ports
You can connect a monitor, audio, as well as USB devices and use the internal Raspberry Pi just like a stand along Pi on your desk.
Assembled from a Kit
The Spirit Rover is shipped as a kit you will assemble yourself with basic hand tools. We will populate all the electronic parts on the boards so no soldering is necessary. Assembly hardware and parts are included.
The assembly instructions include CAD drawings for a clear step by step process. As a kid I built lots of R/C cars and the build process was just as much fun as actually playing with them.
If you require a special combination of items contact us via message and we'll try to make it happen for you!
Packed with Smarts
The Spirit Rover is loaded with useful sensors and processing, sure to keep your projects fresh and evolving for years to come. The heart of the rover is the Rover Main Board which connects to an optional Raspberry Pi computer board.
Have a look over the graphics below to see and appreciate all the smarts and awesomeness packed into the robot.
Multiple Configurations Possible
The Spirit Rover can be configured in several different ways to maximize the possible applications for the robot. Usually the robot will be configured complete with the Pan/Tilt head in place, though this head can be easily left off and the ultrasonic rangefinder relocated to the front of the rover's frame.
Because the Spirit Rover is so well suited to different tasks, we've provided an optional top plate design that can you can 3D print yourself. The open source files can be edited as necessary and the final top plate can be installed using the tabs normally used to mount the wings.
The Spirit Rover was designed for maximum flexibility for people to easily hack and make use of all sensors and smarts however they like. Users will generally use a Raspberry Pi to communicate with the Arduino based processor on the rover's main board using a set of simple and easy to use functions we have provided. The Arduino then in turn communicates automatically with a Microchip PIC processor which runs constantly in the background managing the low level hardware, doing things like setting the servo positions, measuring the ultrasonic rangefinder, measuring how much current the robot is consuming, etc.
A detailed block diagram more clearly shows the key sensors and smarts of the Spirit rover and how they are inner connected.
The Mars Exploration Rover Mission
On June 10, 2003, the Mars Exploration Rover "Spirit" lifted off from Earth. About seven months later on January 4, 2004, it landed on the martian surface - bouncing inside a cluster of huge beach balls.
Spirit had a sister rover named "Opportunity", which arrived to Mars on a separate rocket 21 days later. Though the rovers were only designed to run for 90 days, they both far surpassed this goal. Opportunity is still alive and well on the martian surface over 12 years later!
But the story wasn't so rosy for Spirit. After completing it's planned 90 day mission, Spirit ran into several challenges. It suffered a failed wheel which it dragged across the surface while moving, became stuck and un-stuck a few times, and kept the flight crew up late at night with other issues.
On May 1, 2009, over five years into it's mission, Spirit became stuck in soft soil . Though the flight crew on Earth tried for nearly eight months to find a way Spirit could free itself, it wasn't to be. The rover continued to communicate with Earth for another few months, working as a stationary observation platform. But on March 22, 2010, communication with Spirit was lost, and Spirit was never heard from again.
This project is in honor of the Spirit rover and the extraordinary people at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who design and pilot the rovers. By making this project possible, you will allow the 'spirit' of Spirit to live on - inspiring and educating the Makers, students, and hobbiests that will go on to design and program the rovers of the future.
This project is not affiliated in any way with, or officially endorsed in any way by NASA, JPL, or any agency relating the the rover missions. I'm just a Maker and overall space nerd. The Mars rovers are some of the coolest robots ever designed. I've wanted to design, build, and pilot my own ever since I watched the real mission play out on live television. By supporting this project, you can have your own rover as well!
An animation produced by Dan Maas of Maas Digital for Cornell in 2002 showing the launch and landing sequence of the Mars Exploration Rovers. https://www.maasdigital.com/
Risks and challenges
This is our fourth Kickstarter campaign. What a great experience it has been. We have built a wonderful following of backers along the way.
As this is our most complex project to date, we have allowed some extra time for delivery. We will be working with suppliers over seas that we already have existing relationships for the custom stamped metal parts. Other parts will be sourced from reliable channels in the USA.
We will manufacture and test the boards here in our own shop. This allows us the best visibility of the manufacturing process to ensure things are done correctly. We have relationships with three different contract manufacturers here in the USA that can assist in making the boards if we did run into any problems in our own shop or if the number of backers is extremely high.
In any event, looking over our past campaigns, we really enjoy sharing the process with the backers so we'll be sure to provide lots of updates along the way.
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