The Arduino platform was used to develop an interface between two otherwise incompatible commercial devices in order to drive the ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) rover over long distances. The Portable Operations Terminal consists of three distinct parts: a robot-mounted ruggedized laptop computer containing all of the “ground” support software needed to operate ATHLETE, a handheld computer capable of performing simple problem diagnosis and troubleshooting, and a handheld joystick based on the Wii Nunchuk used to drive ATHLETE with one hand. The physical modifications included an Arduino electronic prototyping board with custom firmware, and various support cables, lanyards, and enclosures to make the device survive the desert environment of the field test.
The Wii controller was designed to be a simple-to-use joystick, and its operation is understandable by children and adults the world over. In this innovation, it has been physically modified to interface with a handheld computer via a USB cable. Rarely, if ever, is such a simple commercial device used to operate a rover as complex as the six-limbed ATHLETE robot. Yet, because the robot is a reliable driving platform, operators only rarely have to rely upon either the handheld computer or the robot-mounted laptop to diagnose or fix problems in operations. The Portable Operations Terminals, of which the Wii Nunchuk was a part, is a “graduated” operations system, relying on a simple device to operate a well-behaved robot while offering successively more complex devices to diagnose successively more complex problems.
This work was done by Jeffrey S. Norris, David S. Mittman, Lucy Abramyan, and Christopher P. Gilmer of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-47625