IRG has quite a few robots and not all of them get their fair share of publicity. Today we’d like to show you one of our upcoming stars, K-REX. This brute is as big as car and has independent drives and steering for each wheel. He’ll serve as our most versatile test platform with which we hope to drive faster and over more difficult terrain.
K-REX was designed by ProtoInnovations in Pittsburgh as part of an SBIR awarded by NASA. IRG adopted the prototype robot after the completion of the project. We plan to use this machine in testing future mission scenarios and guidance software here on Earth only.
This new robot’s most interesting feature is its modularity. Each rocker, the members on the sides by which the wheels are attached, are hot swappable. In the event of a failure, a lever can be pulled and whole rocker can be removed without tools. Thus allowing for fast recovery in the field. The central module is essentially a large trunk that allows plenty of space for payloads such as LIDAR, ground penetrating radar, a robotic arm, or possibly a drill. Compared to K10, IRG’s older platform, K-REX can carry heaver payloads and drive twice as fast.
Currently IRG’s roboticists are busy improving upon K-REX after it had its first big field test last December. During that event K-REX drove just about everywhere in an unused basalt quarry near the San Luis Reservoir. That test answered questions like “What is the optimal LIDAR placement?”, “How steep of a slope can we drive?”, and “What rocks can we tackle over?”. Now the team is working on improving motor control between the 4 steering columns and also addressing battery life. These problems are point of excitement here in IRG because K-REX is a blank slate by which new ideas can be tried on. Now is the time for the team to try new battery chemistries and to investigate new forms of motor control.
K-REX will not replace IRG’s older robots but instead will be become an additional platform to help test questions that the smaller K10’s could not. As the summer rolls around, K-REX will get more action in the sun. The next upcoming tasks is a Centaur-2 standin for navigation, and then later a “lava tube” test, which we’ll be sure to share pictures from.