Skip to main content

Good news, Aliens: NASA’s MRV is bringing sideways performance to a planet near you

Modular Robotic Vehicle (MRV)
Modular Robotic Vehicle (MRV)
When we think of space travel, we often focus on sleek starships, hyperdrive engines, and hull-crushing weaponry. Don’t get us wrong, we love X-Wings and Borg cubes as much as anybody, but a new video from NASA JSC Engineering shines some light on another form of extraterrestrial transportation.

It’s called the Modular Robotic Vehicle (MRV), a battery-electric two-seater with a penchant for lateral driving. It’s not a drifter per say, as all four of the MRV’s independently-powered wheel modules (called e-corners) actuate up to 180 degrees, but the car’s crablike inclinations could make you feel like Ken Block in space.

Related Videos

“It’s like driving on ice but having complete control,” said Justin Ridley of the Johnson Space Flight Center. “It’s a blast to ride in and even more fun to drive. We’ve talked about it being like an amusement park ride.”

Despite the vehicle’s endearing handling characteristics, the MRV has real scientific merit. As Ridley explains, it could pave the way for exploratory vehicles of the future.

“This work allowed us to develop some technologies we felt were needed for our future rovers,” he said. “These include redundant by-wire systems, liquid cooling, motor technology, advanced vehicle control algorithms. The ‘fun’ of driving was not something we tried to design for, just something that came out of the design.”

The omni-directional MRV features a drive-by-wire control system, so there are no mechanical linkages between the steering wheel, pedals, electric motors, or suspension. Instead, sensors record the operator’s inputs through the controls, then transfer energy to the electronics. The result is smooth, effortless driving, and as the video shows, picture-perfect parallel parks. The rover-in-training can also spin completely within its own wheelbase.

Speed is expected to top out around 40 mph, and the vehicle also flaunts a 62-mile range. Lasers not included.

Editors' Recommendations

The Sony car is real. Sensor-studded Afeela EV destined for U.S. roads in 2026
The Sony Afeela has a colorful screen in its grille.

When Sony teased its Vision S concept car at CES 2020, industry wonks everywhere had the same reaction: Neat, now what? At CES 2023, the Japanese company answered that question by introducing the Afeela, an EV produced in partnership with Honda and destined for U.S. roads in 2026.

Initial details were light, but the sedan closely resembles the slippery Vision-S concept Sony showed off three years ago. And like that prototype, it’s all about the sensors -- Sony claims it will contain a total of 45 sensors, from lidar to radar and in-car cameras. A stripe-like strip in the grille glows different colors allowing the car to “express itself” – a common theme in Sony’s CES 2023 presentation.

Read more
Chrysler Synthesis demonstrator brings more screens and software to vehicle cockpits
Chrysler Synthesis cockpit demonstrator

Chrysler isn’t generally known for technological innovation, but the brand at the core of automotive conglomerate Stellantis wants to change that.
Unveiled at CES 2023, the Chrysler Synthesis demonstrator is a mock-up of what the automaker claims is its vehicle cockpit of the future. Featuring a vast expanse of screens and smart software, it sets expectations as Chrysler prepares to revamp its aging lineup in the coming years with a fleet of EVs.

The two-seat cockpit demonstrator is dominated by two dashboard screens. One reaches nearly across the dashboard, while a second smaller screen is nestled into the passenger’s side corner of the dash. While front-passenger screens are already available on vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, from Chrysler’s fellow Stellantis brand, this is a more stylish application that makes it seem like the entire dashboard is one big screen, measuring 37.2 inches.
Behind the screens are three software platforms: STLA Smart Cockpit, STLA Brain, and STLA AutoDrive. STLA Smart Cockpit handles the displays, while STLA Brain enables underlying features like over-the-air (OTA) updates and a virtual assistant that can sync the car with a driver’s phone or smart home devices, as well as recommend parking and EV charging options or handle e-commerce transactions.
STLA AutoDrive is a driver-assist system that will allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road in certain situations, Chrysler claims. When engaged, the Synthesis cockpit reconfigures to let drivers do other tasks — such as videoconferencing or karaoke — that wouldn’t be advisable without a high level of automation.
Before setting out, the car welcomes its driver using biometric authentication, and can then set up a trip plan based on personal schedules, weather, and the car’s state of charge.
The physical cockpit demonstrator is based on the Chrysler Airflow concept, an electric SUV unveiled at CES 2022. Chrysler claims it was made with 100% sustainable materials, with all plastics derived from post-industrial sources or recovered from oceans.
This high-tech cockpit doesn’t correspond to a specific production car, however. The Airflow is still just a concept vehicle, and Chrysler was vague on how close the Synthesis layout is to being production-ready. Chrysler will be the first Stellantis brand to use the STLA Smart Cockpit, STLA Brain, and STLA AutoDrive tech platforms in North America, but they might appear in a different wrapper than what we’re seeing here. Chrysler has a habit of making bug CES announcements that don’t lead anywhere, going back to 2017’s Portal concept.
Chrysler plans to launch its first EV in 2025 and go all-electric in 2028. That’s not a difficult task considering that, with the imminent discontinuation of the 300 sedan, the only Chryslers left will be the Pacifica and fleet-only Voyager minivans.

Read more
Apple’s rumored car could cost the same as a Tesla Model S
Apple Car rendering from Vanarama.

Rumors have been swirling around for years regarding Apple’s plans for an electric, self-driving car.

The latest report, which arrived on Tuesday via a usually reliable source, suggests Apple has scaled back its plan for an autonomous car, with some elements yet to be agreed upon.

Read more