Earth Explorer in a small parcel

Send a camera equipped robot in a small parcel to mission targets around planet earth

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You can drive my camera equipped robots in my since June 2011. Time for at least one new robot to leave my attic in order to explore new worlds.The idea is that people all over this planet can order a robot. It will be shipped free of charge to it's destination. In the target area you need to provide an Internet connection (WLAN or mobile phone) and eventually batteries (they are not included in the "small" version to keep the weight low). The control interface is a webpage of my RoboSpatium and I will guide you through the process of connecting the robot to my server. As soon as it runs, it's up to you where to set the tiny explorer free. Show the world your school, university, workshop, your projects or an interesting place that mankind has ignored for too long...

To keep the shipping costs low, the robot must fulfil the following requirements:
Length: 14 to 60cm
Width: 9 to 60cm
Length+Width+Height: no more than 90cm
Weight: 450g (500g including envelope)

In the target area, the habitants must provide:
1.) Something to show the world.
2.) Internet connection (WLAN or mobile phone)
With the small dimensions the robot is not made not for rough terrain, at least rover operators must have an eye on where they are driving next, same as NASA engineers driving robots on Mars.

For a larger robot or one with batteries included, the weight could be 1000g (double weight=double shipping costs)

Another "trick" of saving shipping costs is doing the world tour as a rover relay:
A robot is shipped to a group of people in a parcel. After their mission is done, they hand it face-to-face to the next group near them. No need for paying postage, no customer clearance to be done and another way of bringing neighbouring tinkerers, students or artists together.

No high tech gimmicks, just transmitting live images from far far away with a new view on things:
Initially I thought of adding many sensors and gimmicks, but during test drives I found that simpler is better. It's the foreign terrain that fascinates most, the view into yards thousand of miles away. Seeing their houses, their cars and that strangers love their children, too.

The computing unit will be a Raspberry Pi (a Zero WLAN is the best solution considering power consumption and weight), thus Internet connection can go through USB, WLAN or Bluetooth.

During the months of the 2017 Hackaday Price, I have evaluated how cheap, commercial RC model cars can be used as platform. The conclusion for the time being is: You can't get it cheaper and quicker. Test drives will show how many miles they can drive.

Want to become a test driver of my rovers? Have a look at my

Package including circuit layout and software. Software based on Raspbian Lite

Zip Archive - 1.41 MB - 10/16/2017 at 18:35


  • 1 × Raspberry Pi (Zero WLAN) Central brain and WLAN connection of the robot
  • 1 × Raspberry Pi camera module A USB camera works as well, but the Raspberry camera module gives you full control.
  • 4 × AA NiMH batteries The more mAh, the better. 3x4 batteries keep the rover running continuously (4 in robot, 8 in charging station)
  • 1 × Cheap RC model car Or motors, wheels and chassis made from scratch
  • 1 × DC/DC converter 5V power supply for Raspberry Pi

View all 6 components

  • Rover R12 cut from aluminium with my CNC

    Norbert Heinz01/19/2019 at 07:16 0 comments

    R12 is my latest robot. It's cut from 3mm aluminium sheets with my CNC v3.2.2 (see my 2018 HackadayPrice entry):

    The central brain of my rover is a SIMATIC IOT2020, two servos for continuous rotation drive the vehicle, a normal servo tilts the IP camera, four LEDs are used as headlights and a flashlight on top prevents (hopefully) that the vehicle is overseen when driving on the floors of maker fairs.

    It's a very sturdy design.

  • The construction video of R7

    Norbert Heinz11/07/2017 at 13:59 0 comments

    The video about how I converted another RC toy car into a camera equipped rover is online:

    More details are on my pages:

    The weight of the the rover including 4 AA NiMH batteries is 500g:

    The weight is not below the 500g limit which would grant the cheapest option for shipping, however it's clearly below 1kg which is my second option. There are several grams left for packing, a charger and add-ons.

    Coming test drives will be used to optimize the software:

  • I shrinked the rover

    Norbert Heinz10/16/2017 at 20:11 0 comments

    Hackaday price 2017 comes to an end, so its time for a summary.

    When I first started building a prototype for a world tour robot, the result was a 34x48x23cm "monster" bot named "R5" with a mass of 3300g. During the months of this year's Hackaday price, my personal challenge was to lower weight and dimensions of this rover. The first approach was building a robot from scratch as I did with R5, but I quickly found that cheap RC model cars are a great option to get a robot up and running quickly. The latest model named "R7" is 440g including 4AA NiMH batteries and an USB charger. With saving money and mostly time in creating a bot I can now think of sending multiple ambassadors to all continents (if people are interested).

    ...and if mankind gets interested in this relay race around the globe, a larger RC car with offroad capabilities similar to that of "R5" is on it's way to Germany and will be converted next. At least one cheap rover is prepared to conquer Earth in 2018 (I'll take the costs). Whether more or larger ones will follow, depends on the amount of money I can acquire for this project...

  • Making a cheap rover

    Norbert Heinz10/15/2017 at 10:59 0 comments

    I got another cheap RC model car that I am currently converting into a rover:

    The RC car costs less than 20,-€ including shipping and it's hard to get a chassis with wheels, motors, batteries with charger and power electronics cheaper when buying single parts and build it all from scratch. With a Raspberry Pi zero WLAN and a camera module, this would be a base for a world tour robot for less than 50,-€.

    The gears of drive motor and steering don't look too bad and test drives will show how many miles the mechanics can do:

    I connected a Raspberry Pi 3 to the h bridges of the car:

    The model car came with 4 NiCd cells and I have added a voltage divider as battery sensor to avoid deep discharge. I will add a holder for 4 AA batteries. With those commonly available NiMH cells you can operate the rover almost continuously if you replace the batteries with freshly charged ones each 2h.

    All details of the conversion will be published in a video about my latest rover that is currently in the process of editing.

    The software is nearly identical to the version I used with my previous rover R6 that is today (October 15, 2017) out for another test run:

    I will also bring my first outdoor rover R5 into the playground, however this robot is powered by lead acid batteries that allow no more than 2h of operation, thus it wont be online the whole day:

    Hope to bring R7 online for a couple of hours before the deadline of this year's Hackaday prize that ends tomorrow. Have a look at my RoboSpatium to see if R7 is up and running:

    It's almost all done to put a first earth explorer into a tiny parcel - some price money would speed it up ;-)

    Come together in exploring our planet!

  • Thanks Hackaday for promoting my project

    Norbert Heinz10/01/2017 at 08:51 0 comments

    My earth explorer was mentioned in the Hackaday blog:

    Thank you Bryan for the entry.

    R6 is up and running again for another test:

    Most of the changes in software I had planned to do today were implemented during the additional test last Friday, so there are only minor changes in the scripts to be done today. Especially in the night hours when the camera uses long time exposure of up to 1s, I will try to speed up transmission.

  • Black & White

    Norbert Heinz09/23/2017 at 10:35 0 comments

    Today's test run of R6 transmits a live stream in grey scale:

    Go to the control center to drive my rover today (September 23):

    During this test run I will try to compress the picture data to get a stream of still images even from areas of this planet that still have low Internet bandwidth. The black and white images give you the impression of driving a robot on the moon during the early days of cosmonautics. Have fun!

  • Transforming a commercial RC car into a rover

    Norbert Heinz09/16/2017 at 16:24 0 comments

    I took a model RC car, a Raspberry Pi, a camera module, a double H bridge, a step down converter and a battery with higher capacity to turn the vehicle into another rover of my RoboSpatium. The conversion was a quick process and now I can do some coding to try a couple of variants I have in mind for transmitting images from the rover to your browser. The first public test run will be on

    Sunday, September 17 at 10:00 CEST (UTC+2)

    The software variant I am using in this test run transmits still images in intervals of approximately 5 seconds. Become part of my test team by driving around with my rover when it is up and running. Some feedback about your driving experience would be nice.

    The rover video:

  • Rover meets rover

    Norbert Heinz06/10/2017 at 16:59 0 comments

    I did a first test run with all components more or less loosely in the body of my Earth Explorer. The test terrain was my RoboSpatium (my attic) and my latest rover took a snapshot of my first rover ever (that is in service since June 01, 2011, driving more than 10km since that day):

    Soft and hardware of my Earth Explorer are still in a very experimental state, but work goes on over the weekend...

  • 4 wheels

    Norbert Heinz06/09/2017 at 20:43 0 comments

    The conceptual design was a 6 wheeler, but now my earth explorer comes with only 4 wheels having a radius of 10cm.Looks like the torque of the geared motors is sufficient to move the rover with low speed on flat ground. Tests will show what slope the rover can climb. Even if only a few parts are printed yet, there are changes in the design. The wheel hub has been changed to fit more tightly on the axis of the motor. For best results, minor changes on the body were made, too.

  • 3D printing

    Norbert Heinz06/08/2017 at 21:58 0 comments

    I have printed the base components of the first Earth Explorer prototype:

    It took 36h to manufacture the parts needed to get a rolling chassis. Things like a battery box, mounts for the driver boards, the Raspberry Pi or the camera are still missing, however I will be able to get a driving rover during weekend. The "Internet of Useful Things" section of this years HackadayPrize comes to an end on Monday which is why I will work on my project the coming days to turn the static camera that transmits photos from my attic into a mobile image sensor which is more useful, I guess.

View all 12 project logs

  • 1
    A general overview of how I build my rovers

    My intention is not to create a new kind of robot, thus it's not the build instruction that is in the foreground of this project. I will send out an assembled robot that needs nothing but WLAN access. However, all my projects are educational and open source, thus I am telling you of course how I made my bots up and running in case you want to make an own copy:

    A robot (no matter if build from scratch or if using a RC model car) needs drive and steering commands. I am using a double H bridge to implement this functionality. You can also reuse the power electronics of your RC car. A DC/DC converter giving 5V output is needed for the Raspberry Pi.

    The wiring diagram is part of the download package.

    The software is based on Raspbian Lite. I have added packages for Apache web server with Perl support, ffmpeg for image manipulation and packages needed to turn the Raspberry Pi into an access point.

    Details about the installation are in the download package.

View all instructions

Enjoy this project?



Donaldwarren wrote 06/30/2017 at 11:45 point

Your project is interestingI am interesten in mobile Robotics, maybe we can share some ideas and experience.  Thanks

  Are you sure? yes | no

Norbert Heinz wrote 07/20/2017 at 20:23 point

Thanks Donald for offering a talk, however this is an open source project and if you'd like to initiate a discussion in a comment section, why not sharing your thoughts with all readers of these pages?

If you still think a private talk would be the better choice, it's not too hard to find my mail address on my pages:
I always answer comments by a comment and only emails by email...

  Are you sure? yes | no

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