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NASA’s Curiosity Rover left for Mars on November 26th, 2011, from the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida. As part of the launch, NASA and LEGO® teamed up and hosted a Build the Future event, where children visiting the Center built their vision of the future in space. As part of the event, Doug Moran and Will Gorman teamed up with LEGO® to create a LEGO MINDSTORMS® Curiosity Rover, which they demonstrated at the event.
Just a couple of months earlier Doug and Will had the idea to build the rover. They began the design of the rover with the wheel. They wanted to create a wheel that reflected the look of the actual rover. This was no small feat, as most LEGO TECHNIC wheels are designed for cars and trucks, not Mars rovers. They were lucky to come across a design online where someone had taken TECHNIC treads and reversed them, making a fairly strong large wheel. Once they had a wheel design, the rest of the rover fell into place. They used this approach for our first generation design, which worked out pretty well.
The November event was a success, but Doug and Will had bigger ambitions. They wanted to build a more stable rover that had the torque necessary to drive around in more environments. They kept iterating over the design, which lead to new wheels and a whole new drive train. The rover is still very much a work in progress, and they are continually trying out new approaches to make the rover more robust. Hopefully someday the rover will be able to easily drive over LEGO Martian terrain with ease!
On August 6th, 2012, the Curiosity Rover, which is the size of a small car, successfully landed on Mars. The LEGO rover isn’t quite that large, but it does contain over 8000 LEGO bricks. There are 7 NXT bricks and 20 motors inside the rover and its controls for interactivity. To celebrate the landing NASA and LEGO hosted another Build the Future event at Kennedy Space Center, where the next generation LEGO rover was presented. With the use of Bluetooth, the rover is interactive; children and parents enjoyed driving and operating the rover’s arm from a remote control. Also at this time, Will published a YouTube video of the Rover, which has since been seen by more than 49,000 viewers. You can view the video here.
Since the August event at KSC, the Rover has been a world traveler. Its first international trip was to Økolariet in Denmark for display as part of an exhibit. From there it traveled to the World Robot Olympiad in Malaysia, where it took center stage along with the Deputy Prime Minister during the opening ceremony. Immediately following the event, it traveled to Cologne, Germany, where it was filmed as a part of Germany’s Quarks & Co TV Show to be aired in December.
The team behind the LEGO® Curiosity Rover
Will got his first RCX kit as a gift from his mom while in college. In 2000 a group of people at GE Research formed a competitive LEGO robot league called BattleBricks. They designed a variety of competitions and also demonstrated the robots to kids that participated in local math competitions.
When he got the NXT, Nintendo® Wii was also coming out at around the same time. Will created a LEGO robot that bowled a perfect Wii bowling game, and that's how he got into posting YouTube videos of LEGO robots. Since then he has designed a bunch of other fun robots that is posted on YouTube and BattleBricks.com. When he joined his current company, many of the employees went out and got LEGO MINDSTORMS and together they started another competitive robotics league. Doug Moran got involved and created some really cool robots as well. When the opportunity arose to work with NASA, Doug wanted to participate because of his interest in space. Both Doug and Will have kids, and LEGO is a great toy for the families.
Doug and Will have only begun their adventure with the LEGO MINDSTORMS Curiosity Rover. They hope to continue on expanding the rover’s capabilities through adding sensors and basic autonomous programming. As the world continues to hear about great discoveries NASA’s Curiosity Rover is finding on Mars, the LEGO MINDSTORMS Curiosity Rover will be roaming around here on Earth inspiring kids to build the future.
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