Results of the Inflatable Robotic Rover Testbed

Inflatable robotic rovers (IRRs) are a promising concept for long-range exploration and access to high-risk areas on planetary surfaces. Through inflation or expansion of their locomotion elements, inflatable rovers can achieve extraordinary terrainability not possible by other conventional mobility systems while maintaining respectable travel speeds. Early work by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has identified key mobility advantages, but design optimality and limitations relative to mission requirements are currently not known. This paper describes CMU's experimental studies that characterize single robotic wheel performance in terms of rolling resistance, drawbar pull, drive torque, drive power and tire wear. These studies were performed with a testbed apparatus that allowed variation of tire design, wheel speed / acceleration, tire pressure, soil / obstacle properties and traverse length.

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