Mars is a long way away, and super expensive to get to, so if you have the very specific dream of owning your own Mars rover, it’s probably not going to happen. But if you want an EARTH rover, there’s a new Kickstarter project that could deliver one once it reaches its funding goal. The Turtle Rover is a new robot built by a small team that has worked on a number of Mars rover prototype projects for the European, German and Swedish space agencies.
The five-person team is seeking €60,000 (roughly $71,500 U.S.) to get their rover ON the ground (that’s a great joke), and will look to ship the vehicle beginning in April of next year, with DIY kits and fully built machines available to backers starting at around the $1,000 mark.
Turtle is a four-wheel ground drone that can drive for up to four hours on a single charge of its included battery, with control facilitated via an app that’s compatible with most computers, tablets and smartphones. The Turtle can create its own Wi-Fi network for connections when you’re off the grid, which is great, because this thing is designed for exploring off the beaten path.
It’s based on a Raspberry Pi 3 computer, running Raspbian, and it comes equipped with a full HD camera for video capture and live streaming. The design is watertight, which means, according to the project’s creators, that it can be fully submerged in water with no ill effects. There’s also a robot arm provided with the roader, which can lift up to 1.1 pounds. And it’s fully customizable, so you can incorporate your own add-ons, like the Microsoft Kinect or a LiDAR sensor for depth and environment sensing.
It can carry up to 11 pounds on its back, in fact, so you could easily load up a DSLR and lens, or a box to load down with your cache of interesting geological samples if you’re doing some remote spelunking. All of the hardware and software is also fully open source, and the project’s creators encourage its use as a development or educational platform.
The Turtle Rover is designed to reach hard-to-access places more easily than you could, and to do so without intruding as much as a lumbering human. You can see in the video how it might be able to explore where you can’t. The team says it also has a very low center of gravity, and a suspension inspired by actual NASA Mars rovers, which should help it navigate even tricky terrain with aplomb — and without rolling over.
Turtle Rover was created by its five-person team, which includes Simon Dzwonczyk, Julia Marek, Martin Twardak, Aleksander Dziopa and Justyna Pelc, with no external funding, and is relying 100 percent on backers at this point. Despite that, the five left their corporate jobs and managed to build a fully functional prototype in six months, and they say that now venture capitalists are calling since they’ve demonstrated their ability to make Turtle a real thing.
For a bootstrapped hardware startup project it looks very promising, and like something that would appeal to any amateur space or drone hobbyists looking to dig deeper into their interest, or help educate others with a true maker project. The Kickstarter campaign ends on September 24, and is about halfway to its goal as of this writing.