The Mars Rover is busy pootling around a planet some 34 million miles away, where humans have yet to tread. And while the lessons it learns along the way will make that mission to Mars that little bit easier in the next decade, there’s a thought we keep coming back to time and time again: “Man, I’d like to give that a drive.”
This week’s Kickstarter campaign doesn’t quite offer that, but it’s the next best thing. The Turtle Rover is a heavy duty land buggy for exploring Earth: more high-tech drone than remote control car.
What is the Turtle Rover?
The team behind it worked on the development of Mars Rover prototypes at Wroclaw University in Poland. Testing prototypes in the harsh environment of Death Valley in America led them eventually to the Turtle Rover – a rover designed by Earthlings, for Earthlings. “We were always both into space industry and robotics, so Turtle was a natural way to make our experience and know-how useful in ‘real life’,” mechanical designer and CEO Simon Dzwonczyk tells me via email.
It may look like Turtle Rover is a jumped-up remote-control car, and you can certainly make a case for that, but it’s a lot more besides. Built from the ground up as an open platform, the car has more in common with heavy duty hobbyist drones than toys. To that end, the open source eight-kilogram vehicle is watertight with an HD camera and four hours of drive time, with a WiFi range of 200 metres and a robotic arm that can lift up to half a kilo of weight.
It can also hold up to five kilograms of equipment mounted on top, allowing modders to work their magic to their own needs (one example from the team shows an Xbox Kinect mounted on top, allowing the Turtle Rover to follow humans around.) So far, Dzwonczyk tells me, enthusiastic backers have expressed an interest in using it for hunting gold, wildlife photography and checking construction quality in South America.
“We want everyone to show us the craziest and strangest ways the rover could be used – and we know we won’t be disappointed.”
Why should I care?
If you’ve ever looked at a remote control vehicle and thought “this would be great, if only it had X”, then Turtle Rover is definitely worth a look. Its sturdy build, combined with open source hardware and software means it can be programmed to your needs, however unusual they are.
This philosophy is behind the team’s decision to crowdfund, Dzwonczyk explains. “The thing is the rover design needs to be elastic, we want to have our community tell us what to change, what to add and which features they like. This is why we decided to crowdfund the project as well. It’s not the profit that interests us – it’s the community of engaged makers.”
How much and when would I get it?
This is the tricky part. Nobody, Dzwonczyk included, would call Turtle Rover cheap.
Ignoring the options that require a 3D-printer (€857) or self assembly (€1,497), the cheapest you can get a Turtle Rover ready to go is €1,547 – or around $2300 Australian.
“Turtle is expensive, we know that, but you shouldn’t compare it to to existing drones on the market,” says Dzwonczyk. “Every new technology comes it’s long way from ‘being suitable for early adopters’ to ‘fit for everyone’. There are only a few RC vehicles on the market that are worth thinking-of as most of them are just toys.”
Either way, the Turtle Rover is still some way off – you won’t get your Turtle Drone in the post until June 2018, assuming all goes to plan.
Is there anything else like Turtle Rover out there?
Remote control cars are nothing new, but there’s nothing quite like Turtle Rover that we could find out there on the market. I checked in with Reviews Editor and drone aficionado Jon Bray to double check this, and he was both impressed by the product, and unable to think of anything that matches the Turtle Rover in a single package.
In short, this is the kind of thing Kickstarter was built for.
How risky is backing Turtle Rover?
As ever with crowdfunding, there is no such thing as a guaranteed product. The end result may not be what’s promised, might never see the light of day, or might disappoint in another way. Only pay what you can afford to lose.
Turtle Rover is a difficult one to judge. It’s Dzwonczyk’s first Kickstarter (“I must say, Kickstarter has a lot of great people helping us to spread the word,” he says), which often causes some alarm bells, but in this case the prototype is working and ready to go. “The only remaining parts of the delivery process are: CE/FCC and EMC certification, rover manual and design of the product packaging,” the page reads. “We had a lot of troubleshooting regarding the rover manufacturing as we plan to keep in in-house with only several parts machined by our suppliers,” Dzwonczyk tells me.
In theory, then, this should be a reasonably safe bet – though, at the time of writing, it’s still 25% short of its goal, having raised €45,029 of a €60,000 goal with nine days to run.