Sawppy Issue: Terrain Mismatch

Backing off from specific design issues like steering trim adjustment, I want to note a general problem with public demonstrations. Sawppy is an approximately 1/4 scale model of Mars rovers Curiosity and Perseverance, faithfully replicating the geometry and articulation of their rocker-bogie suspension systems designed for traversing Martian terrain. Down here on planet Earth, Sawppy has historically not spent much time rolling on Mars-analogue terrain. Most of the time, when I take Sawppy out for show-and-tell, my rover is rolling on surfaces like asphalt, concrete, carpet, hardwood, or tile.

Mars doesn’t have any of those surfaces. With such luxuriously flat and smooth environments, there’s not much opportunity for Sawppy to show off how nifty a rocker-bogie suspension is. I found myself manufacturing challenges out of what’s on hand, which is why instead of sandy dunes or rocky fields, Sawppy finds itself running over feet…

… and backpacks.

Fundamentally, Sawppy is out of its element on smooth terrain. Robots optimized for flat ground would not need the capabilities of a rocker-bogie suspension system, where it is far more complex and heavy than required for the circumstances. But every once in a while, a Sawppy rover gets to visit a someplace resembling its natural habitat, such as when Aussie Sawppy took a trip to the beach.

This is the kind of terrain the rocker-bogie suspension — and the wheels — are designed for.

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