Cracked Sawppy Steering Coupler Almost Survives Full Day of SCaLE 17x

A project log for Sawppy the Rover

Motorized model of Mars rovers Curiosity and Perseverance For Under $500

RogerRoger 03/10/2019 at 20:090 Comments

Before I took Sawppy to its first day of SCaLE 17x, I checked over all mechanical bits and found a cracked steering coupler. My first instinct was to repair my rover by replacing the coupler, but I decided against it because it was still partially functional. I wanted to see how my rover design behaves with some partially broken parts, find out how tolerant of faults it would be.

The answer is: surprisingly well! When everything is in newly assembled condition, the steering assembly could keep its wheel steering angle within a few degrees of the desired position. There is still some error due to flex in the PETG plastic through all component interfaces leading from the servo’s output shaft, through the coupler, through the 8mm steering shaft, through the steering knuckle, through the wheel bearing, the bearing axle, and finally the wheel itself.

With a cracked steering coupler, the steering assembly could still hold angle within about a 20 degree range, or +/- 10 degrees of the desired position. This isn’t great, but like its Mars inspirations, Sawppy was able to keep running with a damaged wheel. I was able to do the usual crowd-pleasing demonstrations running over backpacks and feet. While steering was a bit wobbly, Sawppy has five other wheels to compensate and maintain most of its steering authority.

I thought I’d just continue running the rover until something finally gave. And it did, just not the way I expected. Instead of a gradual degradation in rover operation, what finally killed the coupler was a child. About 6-8 years in age, the boy grabbed the steering wheel assembly in both hands and twisted hard. I heard a loud POP and that was the end of the coupler. The boy knew he was going to be in trouble and ran off, the associated adult was apologetic, but that doesn’t change the fact I now have a broken rover.

Here’s a picture from yesterday, with a partially failed coupler:

After abuse by careless child, here’s a fully failed coupler:

Yesterday the coupler was cracked below the set screw. Now the crack goes all the way to the top and there’s no longer enough force to hold the heat-set insert in place. Once the heat-set insert popped out of place, its set screw no longer has leverage to grip the detent I cut on the steering shaft. A steering shaft that spins nearly freely makes Sawppy very hard to drive. I was able to move a little bit at the Tindie x Hackaday Birds of a Feather Session, but Sawppy could not perform its usual rover capability demonstrations at the meetup.

(Cross-posted to