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“We were looking for the main computing unit for our K-Rex planetary rover project. The system serves as the interface for a wide range of subsystems including the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), differential GPS receiver, multiple gigabit Ethernet cameras, and a laser scanner. The system needed to be capable of overseeing all autonomous movement and navigation and do so in the harsh environmental conditions that many of our missions take place in.”Linda Kobayashi, Robotics Expert at NASA’s Ames Research Center
Who is NASA?
World-class Research and Development
NASA's Ames Research Center is located in Moffett Field, CA and is one of 10 NASA field centers. With 2,500 employees, the facility undertakes research in areas including Autonomy & Robotics, Human & Technology Interaction, Supercomputing and—of course—Space Exploration. The engineers at Ames are working on, among other projects, lunar and planetary rovers—robots capable of autonomous exploration. The Ames Research Center has been a vital part of NASA for more than 60 years with an annual budget of $900 million.
A Rugged, Wide-input, Small-Form-Factor Computer
NASA's Ames Research Center had a need for a rugged, wide-input, compact PC to oversee all navigation and data collection processes for one of their ongoing planetary rover projects. The K-Rex Rover is a four wheel drive, four wheel steer, 213 kilogram autonomous vehicle that NASA developed to collect data in extreme environments that serve as analogs for other non-earth planetary surfaces. The rovers are used to test processes, applications, software and rover mobility in situations and on terrain chosen to closely resemble those that would exist on the surface of the moon, Mars or any other planetary body that NASA is currently researching, or may someday explore. The rover project demands a high degree of modularity and interconnectivity from its computer system to accommodate a wide range of monitoring and positioning equipment. Deployed in extreme environments like the Mojave Desert and the Canadian Arctic’s Haughton Impact crater, the K-Rex rover must be able to reliably function in both extreme hot and extreme cold while maintaining constant remote communication with NASA’s mesh network in order to effectively relay data and receive commands.
The OnLogic Solution
The Nuvo-1005 Intel Core i Mobile Fanless Rugged Computer
OnLogic’s sales engineers worked with NASA's Ames Research Center to choose a solution that would offer them the combination of rugged design and enhanced connectivity that the rover project required. The Nuvo-1005 was chosen for its fanless and ventless construction, vibration resistance and -25°~70° operating temperature. Configured with an Intel Core i7 processor, solid state storage and wide-temp memory, the Nuvo was perfectly suited to carry out the heavy data processing requirements of field missions in the environments and on the rough terrain that the rover was designed to explore.
"The Ames Research Center clearly had very specific needs for their rover project, so we were happy to work with them to determine the system that perfectly matched their desired specifications," said OnLogic Technical Sales Specialist Justin Ballard. "Ames engineers had run into software compatibility and hardware connectivity limitations with some of their former computer solutions. The Nuvo was able to provide them everything they needed in a compact, rugged and extremely versatile unit."
In addition to its rugged construction, the Nuvo-1005 was equipped with five Gigabit Ethernet ports and four RS-232 COM ports to allow NASA engineers to connect all of the hardware and equipment necessary for the rover’s varied mission parameters.
"The Nuvo computers from OnLogic interface with our proprietary rover software and allow for the various autonomous automation tasks we require. The system also is of a compact volume, allows for a wide operating temperature range, and low power consumption, all of which are features necessary to fit the limited space in the rovers and to handle the extreme nature of the field locations where we take the rovers out to, which are typically desert environments," said Linda Kobayashi, Robotics Expert at NASA's Ames Research Center.