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  • Students Build a Rover for Remote Mine Exploration

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2005
Anne L. Fischer

Because exploring mines can be dangerous, two students at the University of Arizona in Tucson devised an 18-in.-long, radio-controlled rover to remotely investigate a mine's nooks and crannies. Equipped with a pan-and-tilt video camera and two 12-V halogen lamps, the rover is designed to take images and to transmit them back to a laptop computer.

Jessica Dooley and Keith Brock, aeronautical engineering majors and members of the university's Aerial Robotics Club, are used to building autonomous airplanes outfitted for video imaging. They drew on that expertise to build the rover, which is controlled with a joystick or cursor and which carries a high-resolution video camera, currently an LCL-903K 1/3-in. black-and-white CCD camera from Watec America Corp. of Las Vegas. The camera moves so that it can view approximately 180° horizontally and 90° vertically.

Students Build a Rover for Remote Mine Exploration
The 18-in. radio-controlled rover is designed to explore old mines with its pan-and-tilt video camera.

The rover communicates with the computer via a 900-MHz RF wireless modem from MaxStream Inc. of Lindon, Utah, which is specified as having a line-of-sight range of seven miles and of 1500 ft indoors or in urban areas. Although they have not yet tested it in a mine, Dooley and Brock hope to be able to communicate with the rover if it stays within those limits. The rover is designed for untethered operation, but they do intend to tie a cord to it in their planned tests in an old mine on Dooley's grandmother's property, just in case.

Powered by three lithium polymer batteries, the rover weighs 3.4 lb and can move at 1.6 mph. The camera is a limitation in the design; the students originally wanted the rover to be able to work right side up or upside down, but with the camera attached to the top, it cannot operate that way. They're exploring the possibility of using a small pinhole camera such as those used in security systems. Upgrades also may include a winch or arm for extracting artifacts and a grinding tool for scraping the surface of in situ samples to expose fresh rock.

The potential uses for the system extend beyond exploration. If a large enough rover were built, it could be used to transport people or to haul samples out of a mine. Or it could be put to work doing the digging. Aside from mining, the rover could be put to use in other dangerous applications, such as in sensing chemical or biological threats or other surveillance uses.

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