Somewhat similar to automotive development, in the space industry the design, building and testing of planetary rover prototypes is extremely expensive, and system testing typically does not occur until late in the design/testing process—leading to a long, protracted development time. In response to such timing issues, Amir Khajepour, Canada Research Chair in Mechatronic Vehicle Systems and engineering professor in the Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering department at the University of Waterloo (Canada), and his team worked with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and Maplesoft, to develop a hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) test platform for solar-powered planetary rovers.
The CSA has a strong history of applying symbolic techniques in space robotics modeling—having used these techniques in the design of various space robotic systems deployed on the U.S. Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. This new HIL initiative uses MapleSim
, the latest generation of Maplesoft's symbolic modeling technology, to rapidly develop high fidelity, multi-domain models of the rover subsystems.
The team's approach allows component testing within a simulation loop before a full rover prototype is available, essentially creating a virtual testing environment for the component under test by “tricking” it into thinking it is operating within a full prototype. Using the MapleSim modeling and simulation tool, high fidelity and computationally efficient models were created for this real-time application.
With this test platform, scenarios that are hard to replicate in a lab setup (such as the Martian environment) or components that are not yet available, can be modeled while hardware components that are
available can communicate with these software models for real-time simulations. The goal is to progressively add hardware components to the simulation loop as they become available. In this way, system testing takes place even without all the hardware components, bridging the gap between the design and testing phases.
The main advantage of this approach is that it significantly reduces the overall project development time. In addition, this method allows for component testing under dangerous scenarios without the risk of damaging a full rover prototype.Rover kinematics
Besides simulating the rover dynamics, the MapleSim modeling environment was used to automatically
generate the kinematic equations of the rover.
These equations then formed the basis for other tasks in the project such as HIL simulations, rover exploration-path planning, and power optimization. The modular system setup also enables users to quickly change the rover configuration and explore different approaches in a short time. Hardware-in-the-loop framework
The figure below shows an overview of the test platform. Information regarding the rover’s position, orientation, tilt, speed, and power consumption (obtained from dynamic models of the rover) is used as input to the software models. A library of rover components was developed within MapleSim and imported within LabView Real-Time
where the HIL program and GUI of the simulations were developed. The program was then uploaded to the embedded computer within National Instruments PXI
, where communication between the hardware components and the software models was established and the real-time simulation run.
“Due to the multidomain nature of the system (mechanical, electrical and thermal), it was desirable to model all the components within one modeling environment such that critical relationships can be easily discovered. In addition, computational efficiency is crucial in real-time simulations,” said Khajepour. He added, MapleSim was found to be an excellant environment for the application because of its multidomain abilities, use of symbolic simplification for higher computational efficiency, and ease of connectivity to LabVIEW.”