Rover Design Challenge
Grades 4-8, Engineering, Social Studies, Geography, Science
In this activity, students design and build electric toy Rovers that run on monorail tracks. It can be set up for learning about real geography and cultures, or for a creative experience where students invent a new land. The Rover challenge is also an engaging way to practice the Engineering Design Process on a flexible challenge while learning 3D modeling on Tinkercad.
The Rover is a small vehicle with a base and four pins to guide it on a monorail track. It uses hobby gear-motors and wheels that are easy to find online, reasonably priced, and reusable. Shaft extensions for the motors can be 3-D printed from the Tinkercad files linked in this lesson. The Monorail track is made from an inexpensive plastic electrical conduit that is available at hardware stores or online. Several track challenges are provided in this lesson plan. Students design and build the Rover and/or the Track, creating track features that depict the area they are exploring and adaptations to the Rover that help it perform on the journey.
This project is structured to follow the Engineering Design Process (EDP), a process that helps designers in any discipline create solutions to problems. While there are many ways that people solve problems, designers often use the EDP because it offers a clear roadmap for them to follow as they work towards a solution.
First, designers Define the challenge they are facing, then Learn more about the problem and Explore existing solutions. It’s tempting to skip these first few steps and head straight into brainstorming, but don’t! When designers take the time to understand the problem clearly, they come up with much better solutions. The Design phase is where brainstorming happens. Designers brainstorm multiple possible solutions, then develop a few of them into more detailed plans. Encourage your students to plan at least 3 of their potential ideas before choosing a design direction and starting to Create a product based on their design. If they hit any roadblocks trying to create their first design choice, they’ll be able to revisit their alternate design plans and choose a new direction - without starting from scratch. Designers then take time to Observe their design and see how they can Improve it. We strongly recommend that students have an opportunity for at least 2 Create-Observe-Improve cycles. When students feel they have to “get it right the first time,” they are less willing to take risks and be creative. By repeating the cycle, they have a chance to fix flaws and adopt successful ideas from classmates, and in fact, they’re practicing what professional designers really do. A good design cycle builds in time for the designer to Reflect on their product and the process of making it, looking for learning habits and insights that will help in future challenges. When the work is complete, designers are ready to Share. They bring their work into the real world, by posting, publishing, presenting, or exhibiting - or giving or selling if appropriate! - what they’ve made. For students working through a design process, a real audience helps students connect their learning and work experiences to the world outside the classroom. For Makerspaces and Maker projects, in particular, this is hugely important for building confidence in every student and a sense of community among Makers. To help students work through this process, be sure to build in planned “stops” at each step for students to record their thoughts and progress as they work through product iteration cycles.
How can the Engineering Design Process be used to efficiently and effectively create a machine to meet a specified challenge?
How can an electric toy car (the rover) and track be used to help students learn academic content?
- Engineering Design Process
- Additional Academic Topics Researched by Students
- Basic electronics
- Basic Prototyping Skills
Time Required: _____ Hours
- 3D Printer and filament.
- DC Gear Motor (on Amazon called Gear Motor for Smart Car Robot, GR 1:48.
- Wheels that fit the motor shafts, usually available with the motors.
- Flex Tubing, ⅜” to ½” outside diameter, such as electrical conduit from a hardware store.
- On/Off Switch
- Battery pack - 3V (2 AA batteries)
- Motor shaft extensions printed from Tinkercad file
- Misc. Arts+Crafts materials (cardstock, corrugated plastic sheets, hot glue, markers, etc.)
Step 1: Define
The Engineering Design Process (EDP) is a respected process for solving engineering and other critical thinking challenges. Students will learn and practice transferable skills involving creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking. The EDP is a guide to problem-solving and leads the user to effective solutions in an efficient manner. In this activity, students design and build a toy Rover powered by an electric motor. It is powered by a single electric DC gear-motor and follows a monorail track made out of flexible tubing. Students also have the opportunity to design the track and various obstacles and features for the rover to encounter during its travels. The challenge can simply be a made-up land, or the class can build it as a significant historical or geographic region. The rover body, features of the course, and the items the rover encounters can all be related to the theme.
Through building a rover and its challenge course, students will be practicing engineering design, critical thinking, teamwork, as well as basic electronics.
Design an electric toy rover and track/course to complete challenges. Student teams consider scoring options and plan a strategy to earn points based on the performance of their rover on the course they create.
Sample Challenge 1 - Geography and Culture
Road-trips and tours are popular with vacationers that like to explore and learn about new places. To prepare for such a trip the adventurer may need to outfit their vehicle with special features, plan a way to navigate the expected terrain, and/or plan how to store items they collect along the way.
Students create a rover with features that help it in its tour of a specified region. The rover may need to navigate terrain specific to that region, visit significant sites, and/or collect typical artifacts from the region.
The rover design challenge is an engaging activity for a class on geography and culture. It includes aspects of technology, engineering, and electricity, and can serve as an interdisciplinary activity.
- Build a rover as per the instructions here, or design their own.
- Learn about the people in the area and design artifacts that represent the culture of the civilizations
- Research the geography of the region and create terrain, physical features, and artifacts as expected in the region.
Sample Challenge 2 - Mars exploration
For years, scientists have been looking for signs of life on the red planet. Numerous NASA missions have been looking for signs such as bacteria and other microscopic life forms. Most important, the Mars rovers and probes are looking for one other key piece of evidence: liquid water. Life cannot exist without it from what we know, and surface geography has indicated that water once flowed over the surface of the red planet. On their journey, these rovers will encounter many obstacles including mountains, craters, valleys, sand drifts, and more. Learn about the history of the search for life on the Red Planet. Discuss the reasons for the study of celestial bodies such as other planets. Are we alone in the universe? Consider the implications such a study would have for the future.
Students study the geography and features of the regions of Mars: Olympus, the South Cap, Tharsis, Cassini Crater, Acidalia Planitia. They create landscapes and tracks to show this geography and build rovers to perform discovery challenges.
The Challenge is set up so there is not 1 winner, but levels which students can try to attain, as they might in sports or martial arts. Student designers can create rovers that earn points in different ways, creating track or rover features that earn points for performance. Track features can include rough terrain, bridges, and underpasses, or seesaws. Rover features include carrying, plowing, or collecting objects such as foam blocks or action figures.
Students must build a working rover and track that can perform the suggested tasks and earn points
Complete the project in the time allotted, with the materials provided
In the example scoring, 25 points = Road Racer, 35 points = Road Master, 50 points = King/Queen of the Road
See PDF Below.
Student Product / Learning Goals
Students can be involved in 2 types of activity - designing the course and designing the track. They can practice the engineering design process by using 3D Printers to make “parts” and “tools” for a moving rover or research a topic and apply their knowledge to design obstacles and challenges for this rover to cross.
Step 2: Learn / Explore
1. Research: Direct students to resources with information about their specific regions or cultures, and suggest specific things to look for. This can be an individual or team activity.
2. Collect: Instruct students on how/where to keep notes on the things they learned. They may create an “inspiration page” such as a blog, Google Docs, a notebook, Padlet, poster, etc.
Step 3: Design
Students work together to brainstorm ideas on how to represent the region and culture they are assigned The goal is to create a rover and track/course that is simple enough to build while still being complex enough to communicate the idea. The design process is most effective when designers create at least 3 different ideas.
Option A: draw designs on how the rover and track/course will look and/or function. Use paper, whiteboard, drawing apps.
Option B: Build simple models using crafting materials (paper, glue, clay, pipe cleaners, etc.) to show look and/or function
Option C: Let the students play around in Tinkercad to get familiar with the program and make practice models.
2. Direction: Help the students choose a rover and track/course that fills the criteria of the project, as well as the “Thing” Checklist (this checklist can be found in the Resource section of the Lesson).
Step 4: Create
1. Pull a box shape into the workspace and size it to the following:
- Height: ⅛”(.125”) - Required.
- Length: 5 ½” - The current length includes room for the current electrical components as well as space in the back for optional extensions.
- Width: 2” - This is wide enough to fit the motor with shaft extensions.
- Radius: .12” (optional) - The radius can be found under shape drop-down panel, this step is optional but can help the rover avoid getting caught on other objects while in motion.
These pins are meant to be used as guides and not as standing supports. The overall height of the front pin is the distance to the ground, minus 1/16" (.062”).
2. Pull a cylinder shape into the workplace and set the dimensions to:
- Height: 5/8” (.625) - Required.
- Diameter: ¼” - Required.
3. Pull in a half sphere and size to:
- Height: ⅛” - Required.
- Diameter: ¼” - Required.
4. Drop the half sphere on top of the cylinder. (To do this, select the workplane, then choose a side wall. Select the shape you want to drop, and hit the D key on your keyboard.)
5. Align them to center.
6. Group the half sphere and cylinder.
7. Duplicate the pin, and give the two pins a spacing equal to the tubing diameter, plus .03".
x +.03 = y (x = tube dimension, y = 1st pin spacing).
8. You can import a box shape to use as a guide and set its width to the needed spacing.
9. Individually select and drop each pin to the box's side wall. (To do this, select the workplane, then choose a side wall. Select the shape you want to drop, and hit the D key on your keyboard. )
10. Once you're done, align the pins to be side by side, and delete the box shape guide.
11. Group the front pins for easy movement.
Designed to be used as turning guides and are shorter to help the rover go up/down ramps with ease.
12. Pull a cylinder shape into the workplace and set the dimensions to:
- Height: ½” - Required.
- Diameter: ¼” - Required.
13. Pull in a half sphere and size to:
- Height: ⅛” - Required.
- Diameter: ¼” - Required.
14. Drop the half sphere on top of the cylinder and align them to center.
15. Group the half sphere and cylinder.
16. At the bottom right corner of the workplane, set the Snap Grid to a unit you wish to move the cylinder by.
16. Duplicate the back pin, and use the right or left arrow keys to move the second pin over in increments of the Snap grid. Feel free to experiment with different spacings, and see how this affects the rover's movements.
- Limit: Keep the spacing distance under 1.75" (2" rover body, minus the half thickness of both pins (.125"+.125")).
17. Group the back pins together after you're setting them to your desired distance.
Aligning the Pins:
18. Set the Snap Grid to 1/2 in.
19. Align the front pins to the front of the rover base.
20. Move them in (use directional arrow keys (up,down,left or right)), twice (.5" x 2 = 1" depth).
21. Align the back pins to the front of the rover.
22. Move them in (use directional arrow keys (up,down,left or right)), six times (.5" x 6 = 3" depth).
23. Select all shapes and group them together.
24. Export as an STL, and print the part in this position.
25. While the Rover body is printing, wire up the DC gear-motor and battery.
Rover Assembly - wiring:
- Print the premade or custom rover extensions.
- Push the pin part of the extenders into the wheels.
- Push the motor pins through the extenders.
- Download and print the extensions.
- If the fit is loose, try adding hot glue.
- If the extenders don’t fit, try using an Exacto blade to carefully clean off the edges of the print.
- Check to make sure the wheels are rotating in the correct direction and moving the rover forward.
- Hot glue motor to the body. The placement should be between the two rover pin guides.
On/off switch to the body:
- Hot glue the one/off switch to top side of the rover, closer to the motor.
- Make sure to leave space on the sides and the back for your extra components.
Hot glue the battery pack on top of the motor. This will create space for your extra components.
After you’ve finished, add any extra extensions you need for the rover challenge.
Don’t forget to customize your rover with fun characters and designs!
Track: The grid in these layouts is 1” square, showing a 4’ x 6’ course.
1. Choose one of the following challenge maps or make your own.
Challenge Map 1:
Challenge Map 2:
Challenge Map 3:
Make your own:
2. Use floor tiles as guides to mark a 4’ x 6’ area in which the rover challenge will take place.
3. Maker a “Home” base in which the rover will start and end it’s track.
4. Mark the locations of the Terrains for the students to design their track with and around. Terrains have special features that affect how the rover will behave:
- Water - Not a spot the rover can ride on unless specified.
Example: A rover can’t travel in water, but after it collects special “floating” devices (corks), it can.
- Sandpit/stone - Textured terrain.
Example: Pebbles, hot glued to a piece of paper/cardboard make it harder for a rover to ride over.
- Mountain - A specified elevated spot on the map. Should be high enough for a rover to pass under, but not too high so a rover can get up a possible ramp.
5. Mark a designated “PICK UP” and “DROP OFF” spot.
Step 5: Observe and Test
1. Play with the rovers and tracks! Student teams earn points for performance and get ratings. Encourage students to help each other solve problems so that all teams earn at least 1 rating for their car/track.
2. It is recommended that students have an opportunity for at least 2 design-build-improve cycles. When students feel they have to “get it right the first time” they are less willing to take risks and be creative. On the second time through they can fix flaws and adopt successful ideas from classmates.
3. Provide stopping points for the class where students can observe, evaluate, and document their design.
4. Give students a chance to record their thoughts and progress as they work through product iteration cycles.
For possible prompts: download the PDF at the end of the step.
5. Follow instructions in the Create Step as needed for the next iteration
Step 6: Reflect
Reflect: After the design and build time is over, have students reflect on the process and product. This reflection is similar to the one in the “Observe, Improve, Iterate” step but now includes reflection on the process as well.
For possible prompts: Download the PDF attached to the bottom of the step.
Step 7: Project Extensions
We hope you had fun designing and sharing your Rovers and tracks. What did you make? What materials did you use? We want to see! If you did this in a K-12 classroom, what subject was it in? Send us an email or leave us a comment so we can see what you're making.
Visit our website k12maker.mit.edu to get resources for K-12 teachers:
- Maker skills workshops for K-12 educators - Spring, Summer, and Fall
- Lists of Tools and Materials and illustrated charts to print and post
- Supervision and safety guidelines for shop administrators
- Training guides for common tools (including student checklists and refresher guides)
- Our Maker Methodology for designing Maker Projects for core curriculum, including sample projects