What happens when the navigational technology of an alien planet exploring rover is applied in a bantam urban car? Well, the answer is – Modular Robotic Vehicle (or MRV), a tiny automobile with the ‘brand name’ of NASA on it. Boasting of a unique steering mechanism (with remote controlled features) with four autonomously actuated wheels that have their own liquid-cooled motors, the resultant prototype craft espouses both the mobility and control aspects seen in its exploration vehicle counterpart. These groovy attributes are complemented by an all-electric drive train, thus making the MRV for all intents-and-purposes, a smart car.
To that end, the motors on each wheels certainly endow a hip angle to the advanced rover-like scope. When translated to a motional ambit, the car has a special multi-axis joystick in the middle of its dashboard (along with the regular steering wheel and the pedals). This control unit allows the MRV to have extraordinary ‘drifting’ power with the ability to rotate over 180 degrees. Of course, beyond the scenario of showing off one’s drifting prowess, the joystick is expected to be used in unison with the steering wheel – with the combo allowing the MRV to have the extra agility when it comes to all-terrain navigation (be it in Earth or other planets).
The other significant aspect of the MRV is its collective nature of electronic control. In other words, the vehicle eschews the conventional mechanical link in favor of sensors and built-in computers that can further allow the automobile to be ‘independent’ of the driver. This doesn’t necessarily translate to fully autonomous features, but the system will pertain to remote controlled attributes along with assistive autonomy. These electronic components are also fail-safe with the MRV having the capability to revert to a back-up in case of electronic malfunctioning.
Lastly, as for its electric credentials, the MRV can zip to a top speed of 70 km/hr (around 44 mph), with a substantial range of 100 km (or 62 miles). And, while we are at it, we should make it clear that NASA has no (immediate) plans to commercialize this craft on Earth. However, on the brighter side, some of MRV’s technological aspects have every chance to be adopted by future automobiles with their much-slated autonomous attributes.