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Engineering students construct mine rover

EVAN CARAVELLI/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior aerospace engineering majors Jessica Dooley (left) and Keith Brock take a break from testing their mine rover's rock climbing abilities outside the Flandrau Center last week. The rover is capable of transmitting wireless video feed from the depths of a mineshaft back to the surface.
By Georgeanne Barrett
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
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Two UA engineering students have built a radio-controlled rover to explore the mysteries inside old mines in the Arizona desert.

Keith Brock and Jessica Dooley, both aerospace engineering seniors, were curious about what was inside a mine northeast of Phoenix near Congress, Ariz., but were not willing to risk their lives to find out.

Brock and Dooley, members of the UA's Aerial Robotics Club, said they were familiar with the technology necessary to make the rover, so it only took two weeks to go from an idea to the finished product.

Dooley said they have yet to test the rover in an actual mine because they are uncertain how safe the mineshafts are and unsure if they will get radio transmission that far underground. They plan to connect the rover to a rope in case they need to pull it out of the mine.

"My grandma has a mine on her property, and we wanted to make something to go in instead of us," Dooley said. "We are hoping to test it over Thanksgiving."

Dooley said the 18-inch-long rover has a searchlight powerful enough to see in the depths of the mine, and a pan-and-tilt video camera that will be able to send images of the mine back to their laptop.

"We are used to building robotic airplanes," Dooley said. "Building something on the ground is a lot easier."

Brock said the rover is 1.5 square feet in area and seven inches tall. He said it can be controlled with a joystick, computer mouse, or cursor tracking.

"In the beginning, we just wanted to make something silly to go into the mine," Brock said. "The rover wasn't nearly as tricky as the aerial stuff we do."

Brock said MaxStream, a wireless device networking company, sponsored a large part of the project by providing Brock and Dooley with 900 MHz radio modem that will allow the rover to communicate with a computer outside the mine.

"We were like Tim Allen, we wanted more power for it," Brock said while explaining how they picked out light bulbs for the rover.

Brock said it cost him and Dooley $200 to build the rover. He said $100 of the budget went to buying wheels. The majority of the components came from various parts they had lying around.

"We decided to make the rover from spare parts from our own private stash," Brock said.

Brock said some of the other parts that have made the rover work are servos, mechanisms that drive the wheels, a servo-driver board that allows the remote computer to send signals to the servos, a lithium polymer battery, and a DC-to-DC converter that powers the rover's various electronic parts.

Brock and Dooley originally wanted to put tank tread on the rover, but were unable to find a system that worked.

"It is still in the modification process," Brock said. "It really will never be finished."

Brock and Dooley both said they hope to add to the rover in the future and keep making it better.

They said someday they might add features such as a robotic arm to pick up things out of the mine. They also said they have larger scale future plans for the rover.

"Maybe eventually we could make something for the bomb squad," Brock said. "We could also add features to make it like the Mars rovers."

Dianne Smith, the program coordinator for the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, said she thinks it is wonderful Brock and Dooley have been able to develop the rover.

Smith, who has worked with Brock and Dooley for two and a half years, said it is amazing they were able to build this on such a small budget.

"They have done so well and have groomed younger people to follow in the vein they have worked in," Smith said.

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