The following publications give further information on the UTOPUS traction technology

Some further background

UTOPUS Traction Technology: A New Method for Planetary Exploration of Steep and Difficult Terrain

Volker Nannen, Damian Bover, Dieter Zöbel, Francisco Parma, Katie Marascio, and Blair M McKenzie

ISTVS 8th Americas Conference, Troy, Michigan, 2016

After several successful missions to explore the surface of Mars with wheel-based rovers, the exploration of difficult and steep terrain has gained prominence in the field of planetary exploration, calling for new methods of vehicle locomotion which offer stability in steep and difficult terrain. UTOPUS traction technology offers a new method of locomotion which abandons the wheel paradigm for a two-phased anchoring and de-anchoring technique by driving removable crampons into the ground. In agriculture it minimizes soil compaction, reduces energy consumption, and produces a draft force similar to much heavier wheel-based tractors. Here we investigate whether the inherent stability of locomotion based on removable crampons allows exploration of steep and difficult terrain. We present experimental results from climbing and descending a mound of heterogeneous dust, sand, and granular material at the critical angle of repose, at an inclination of 25–40 degrees. The UTOPUS vehicle repeatedly climbed and descended the mound safely. An initial problem when reaching the top of the mound was solved by rebalancing the vehicle. Occasional failure occurred when the vehicle had strong lateral inclination, or on patches of very loose ground, suggesting the need for some design changes to the current model.

Keywords: crampon-based traction, inching locomotion, push-pull locomotion, planetary exploration, steep terrain exploration

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UTOPUS: A Novel Traction Mechanism to Minimize Soil Compaction and Reduce Energy Consumption

Volker Nannen, Damian Bover, Dieter Zöbel, Blair M McKenzie, and Moshe Ben Avraham

ISTVS 8th Americas Conference, Troy, Michigan, 2016

Tractor tires on agricultural soil suffer from inherent limitations like energy loss due to slip and tire flexing and a need for considerable ballast to gain traction. These limitations contribute to soil compaction, make the agricultural tractor energy-inefficient and make it unviable to power a tractor with solar panels or by storing renewable energy in batteries. To address these disadvantages as a whole, we introduce a novel traction mechanism that allows weeding and cultivation using only autarkic solar energy, based on the novel principle of retractable tines or crampons for traction. The mechanism inserts relatively small crampons every few meters into the soil, and then uses a push-pull mechanism to pull tillage implements through the soil, without any additional ballast. The light weight of the resulting machine and the small contact area of crampons with the soil reduce soil compaction, while the static nature of the crampons minimizes energy loss and increases energy efficiency. We report a range of successful proof-of-concept trials which show the practical feasibility of the basic concept for weeding and soil cultivation with solar energy, wind energy, and electric power supply under different conditions. We also provide calculations on the economic advantages compared to ballasted tires.

Keywords: Crampons, Push-Pull Locomotion, Inching Locomotion, Energy Efficiency, Tractive Efficiency, Soil Compaction

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Motion Dynamics of UTOPUS Push-Pull Vehicle with Narrow Tines for Traction

Volker Nannen, Damian Bover, and Dieter Zöbel

ISTVS 8th Americas Conference, Troy, Michigan, 2016

It has been shown that a locomotion system based on narrow tines which are periodically inserted into the soil can generate considerable traction power on loose soil, promising new opportunities for efficient and sustainable agricultural machines. However, the resulting vehicle dynamics are different from wheeled or tracked locomotion and require a new conceptual approach in order to arrive at efficient engineering solutions. To better understand the resulting dynamics, we present a detailed description of recent experiments on the locomotive dynamics. Using a variable frequency drive and electric motor which drives a push-pull mechanism connected to two alternating frames with narrow tines and plow shares, we investigate the energy characteristics of the resulting device, and measure power consumption over the resulting motion cycles. We find that the concepts of inserting tines into the soil, and then pulling from them, cannot be treated as separate phases of the motion cycle but must be viewed as a single process, such that the way the tines settle in the soil affects the motion dynamics and energy consumption of the vehicle during the pulling phase. This needs to be taken into account for low level motion control, and calls for special mounts for tools like plow shares to optimize interaction with the soil.

Keywords: vehicle dynamics, push-pull locomotion, crampons, narrow tines, tractive efficiency

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Apparatus and Method to Determine Ground Properties by Traction Anchors and Sensors

Damian Bover, Volker Nannen, and Georgina Ramirez

US Patent Application (2015): US 2015/0247835

A system and apparatus for determining soil properties and managing the ground can include a platform equipped with traction anchors, wherein at least one anchor is configured to provide a point of traction on the ground and to pull the platform. The system also includes one or more sensors positioned and configured to detect ground properties near the anchor, and a computer subsystem configured to receive and process data on ground properties measured by the sensor, to process this information, and capable of transmitting information about the ground soil to a remote receiver.

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Autonomous self-actuated ploughing implement

Damian Bover

Spanish Patent Publication (2011): ES2351140

PCT Publication (2012): WO2012010722

US Patent (2015): 9,144,188.

An implement has at least a first plow share in front, provided with an anti-rollback mechanism, and at least a second plow share in the rear, with another anti-rollback mechanism. The plow shares are interconnected by alternate approaching and distancing mechanisms. A telematic control unit based on a computer system that is assisted by a global positioning system, autonomously guides movement of the implement. A steering system formed by an oscillating support can rotate in a plane perpendicular to the advancement direction of the implement and lifts one of the plow shares in relation to the ground and moves it laterally. A power supply system using renewable energy or internal or external combustion engines is mounted on the implement.

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