Bangladesh has taken its first steps into the realm of space technology with the launching of the Bangabundhu-1 satellite. The world of space technology is one of intense engineering development with the potential to bring huge benefits to life on Earth. That is why Team Interplanetar, from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), is proud to dedicate themselves to researching on the use of space technology for technological advancement of the nation. As a first step to realizing this aim, they are taking part in the European Rover Challenge (ERC), which is a competition about building an autonomous travel vehicle capable of doing scientific tasks like soil testing, collecting atmospheric data etc. Competing in this year’s competition, which is to be held in Poland, will give these students a quality insight into the standards of space technology, and give them the national and international connections necessary to further develop such technology to cater to the variety of challenges here in Bangladesh. To get an idea of how such rover technology will help the people of Bangladesh, let us first take a look at a brief overview of the intended competition, the European Rover Challenge (ERC), and then go on to a brief summary of the capabilities of the rover.
What is a rover?
For readers who are unfamiliar with what a rover is, here is a brief overview. The main idea of a rover is a remote controlled vehicle than can travel through rough, natural terrain, carry loads/supplies, and conduct scientific research. Over the past few decades, space agencies like NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and ESA (European Space Agency) have sent rovers to the moon and mars. These bots have collected data about the soil and atmosphere of those places and have advanced our understanding of space. Humans are now looking at the possibility of mineral extraction from space. A more ambitious aim for the long run is to start life on Mars, as aimed by the privately-owned American company, SpaceX. To make such technology possible in the near future, further scientific research through the development of rover technology is necessary. Which is why, international competitions like the ERC are encouraging students to invest themselves in this space race.
About the European Rover Challenge (ERC) and BUET’s part in it:
The European Rover Challenge is a competition of university teams from around the world for the purpose of building a robot that has the capability of withstanding the challenges at Mars and carrying out scientific research there. The aim of this competition is to engage university students in inspiring potential solutions to some of the challenges faced by NASA and ESA in their robotics missions. The authorities have not yet released any information about how many teams are participating in this year’s competition, but reasonable estimate from previous experience dictates that the number should be close to 100. Each team must bring one self-made rover, which will have to travel through uneven terrain, deliver certain supplies, and retrieve soil samples for further testing. The rover must be controlled remotely by radio frequency. Teams will be judged on the basis of how efficiently they can complete certain tasks. In addition to that, there are also various indoor challenges that the rover must complete.
BUET has competed in such competitions in the past, like the ERC-2011, ERC-2015, and the much more prestigious URC (University Rover Challenge)-2016. This year, they are upgrading their rover technology to ensure it is well capable of performing these challenges. They want to ensure that their rover is capable of doing much more than just travelling though rough terrains and procuring scientific samples; they want it to perform in indoor environments too, detect obstacles, and be versatile in completing task. One of the latest and most interesting developments to the rover is the image processing technology. Currently, their robot can detect circular objects (like a tennis ball, door knob, or rock) of a specific color, and automatically collect it or operate it. With further development, they believe they can train this robot to detect more complicated shapes and work for scavenging for desired items within a huge field. Furthermore, their robotic arm has been improved to not only carry heavy load but also to carry out minute tasks of high dexterity like turning a door knob, typing on a keyboard, or opening a drawer. They plan on further improving this technology so that is can be on par with the human hand in terms of versatility and dexterity. Another interesting technology they are using in this rover is the LIDAR sensor, a technology used by autonomous cars to generate a 360-degree view of their surroundings. This system reduces the need to have an operator continuously controlling the rover and thus grants some degree of autonomy to the rover.
How competing in the ERC leads to innovation:
The results of ERC are stimulating business startups, scientific research and innovations around the globe. In this case, Bangladesh should certainly not be left out of this stream of progress, which is why Team Interplanetar aims to dedicate themselves to modifying space technology for better use at our home country, particularly in the development of the robotics and automation sector of Bangladesh. So, their rover technology is not only going to be limited to space research but can also be modified for agriculture, rescue operations, military use, nursing work, mining and a lot of other jobs here at home. Here is a vision from Team Interplanetar on how this rover technology will benefit the people of Bangladesh.
For a country heavily dependent on an agricultural economy, Bangladesh has been lagging behind in the use of automated machines like tillers, tractors or harvesters in its agricultural production line. For greater agricultural productivity, this country needs to get habituated to effectively use machines.
Their rover is capable of travelling in rough uneven terrain. So, it should be well capable of operating in agricultural fields. Moreover, the mountings on the rover can be modified to accommodate an irrigation system, a fertilizer spraying system or a seed disposal system. The rover can be remotely operated, reducing work on part of the farmer. This could also translate to less work on the paddy field, and more time to devote to other agricultural work like developing poultry farms, dairy farms, or other vocational works. This would allow farmers to diversify their agricultural output, thus granting them a more secured earning.
Moreover, an existing problem in our agricultural system is the uncontrolled use of pesticides and fertilizers which can have a degrading effect on health. The rover technology could be improved to accommodate a controlled fertilizer disposal system to ensure crops get the accurate dosage of fertilizers and pesticides required.
One of the most widely used applications of robots around the world has been in rescue operations. However, Bangladesh has been lagging behind in the use of automated technology to help in times of disasters. Automated machines are capable of travelling on debris, reaching into places deemed unsafe for rescuers, travelling through fiery paths, and delivering first aid and supplies to people in need.
In countering municipal fires, firefighters are often obstructed by a wall of fire that prevents them from reaching the people trapped. The rover can be modified to travel through such unsafe fiery paths to deliver necessary oxygen and first aid to the victims, to ensure they get an extended survival time while rescuers try to find a way to save them. Using more power motors in the rover would allow it to climb stairs, thus increasing its reach to people in disaster situations. Moreover, the ability of the rover’s robotic arm to carry heavy weight means that it can be capable of clearing out debris, or digging, thus clearing out a path for rescuers to reach the victims. This ability allows it to be of further use in rescue missions during natural disasters like a cyclone or hill slide.
Having an automated, or remote controlled robot at your side gives you a great sense of security when you are a sick patient at home, or an elderly person living alone. The rovers of travel and high mobility will make it your personal security guard at home. A camera mounted on this travelling rover will give you real time video feedback of what this rover sees when it goes on patrolling across your house on your command.
Moreover, you can say goodbye to your constantly nagging chuta bua and turn this rover into your personal assistant. Its robotic arm, equipped with a high torque motor gives you just enough strength to wipe the floor and clean those obstinate marks off. It could also complete routine tasks like help you carry the groceries back home, or help you move heavy loads at home. It can bring you a glass of water, open the door, get you the remote, and turn off the lights for you while you relax and watch TV - a great assistant at your side.
These nursing capabilities could also be modified to help in the hospital. It could deliver supplies to doctors, be modified to collect blood donations, etc. The rover could also be equipped with a health monitor. The technology used in health monitoring accessories like smartwatches could be adapted for mounting in this rover so that these can be the personal health assistants for the sick and elderly. These mountings will be reading their health data every day and sending that data to doctors for supervision.
A robot that is built for the purpose of soil testing on mars can be well modified for mineral extraction here on earth. This rover can find great use, especially in danger situations, where it is unsafe for humans to travel to, like the depts of coal mines where workers have a risk of dying from carbon monoxide poisoning. Moreover, this can be deployed during the primary exaction of a mine to collect data on the air quality inside the mine to determine if it is safe for humans reach inside.
In various industrial settings, there may be situations unsafe for humans. This is where these rovers can take over. Currently, robots are used in nuclear power plants to handle radioactive substances which would be too dangerous for humans. With the advent of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, Bangladesh needs to start serous investments in rover technology for safely operating in radioactive conditions.
Military and Surveillance:
The rover can be a good patrol device at the border and can be help in reconnaissance missions. It could also be used to carry supplies and aid in the rough terrains of a battlefield. The dexterity of the robotic arm means that it could also be used as a bomb diffuser, a job that is too risky for a human to carry out himself.
Team Interplanetar is keen on researching on robotic technology that could cater to the people of Bangladesh. For the time being, they are focusing on performing well on the European Rover Challenge. They hope this will give them national coverage, and develop their international connections so that they can involve themselves in further research on the use of rover technology here at home. The results of ERC are stimulating business startups and scientific research and innovations around the globe. They believe that Bangladesh should not be left out of this stream of innovation. Right now, the team are looking for sponsors who are willing to be a part of their dream to create and develop a much-needed automation and robotics technology sector in Bangladesh.