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.
“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.