MIT Robotics + Peplink = ultra reliable remote monitoring and control for NASAs Robo-Ops Competition.
NASA’s annual Robo-Ops competition invites some of the best technology minds in the world to turn their talent and skill toward creating the next generation of planetary rovers.
In this blog post we hear from Reo Baird, team leader of this years Peplink Sponsored MIT robotics team entry, and find out how Peplink MAX devices and SpeedFusion VPN technology helped them achieve 2nd place in this years competition..
How did you approach this rather unique challenge?
When we, the MIT Robotics Team, decided to apply for entry into the NASA Robo-Ops competition, we knew we would have a challenging task ahead. We would be pitted against established teams fielding tele-operated rovers that have undergone years of testing, rebuilding and refinement. We would have just one short semester and zero first-hand experience to try and best these established teams.
With such a tight schedule, it was imperative that we learned as much as we could from past years’ competitions. By the due date for our entry application, we had sifted through the successes and failures of numerous teams, and identified several common issues. Key among these, teams consistently struggled to maintain a robust low-latency communication link with their rovers. Video quality was typically choppy with latencies well over a second. Additionally, connection issues and dropouts would force teams to re-establish connections multiple times, wasting valuable time.
What were the remote communications requirements?
In this area, we saw an opportunity for improvement. As early as our initial proposal we specified the use of multiple redundant connections with capacity for failover and bandwidth sharing, though at the time we had not yet figured out exactly how to achieve this goal. Throughout the next couple of months, various options were researched. Our search began with the load balancing and bonding routers that our competitors had used in the past.
How did you discover Peplink devices?
While researching the capabilities of these devices, we stumbled upon Peplink’s line of products. Many online reviewers recommended Peplink’s unit over the competition for its richer feature set, and more powerful load balancing.
Our initial plan was to use Peplink’s Max On-The-Go router, with standard load balancing across two connections. However, when we reached out to Peplink, they suggested that Peplink’s SpeedFusion technology may give us an even greater edge, and generously offered to donate the necessary equipment.
Through the use of a Peplink Balance 580 in our mission control and an HD2 Mini onboard of our tele-operated rover, we were able to establish a SpeedFusion connection across two 4G LTE connections. The SpeedFusion unbreakable VPN technology gave us a few key advantages over our competitors, and traditional connection bonding technologies:
Our load balancing and failover was done at the packet-level, rather than connection level. For us, this meant that in the event of a connection issue on one line, nothing would require reconnection and the system would continue functioning without pause. Additionally, our bandwidth-intensive video streaming application would split load over both lines.
Peplink’s VPN technology meant our rover and mission control were always on the same local network. This happened seamlessly and transparently and required no challenging configuration. For us, this greatly simplified software configuration.
Also, when our software team was struggling under tight deadlines, they were able to keep working on onboard software via the unbreakable VPN connection even when the rover was out in the field undergoing testing, or on the other side of the continent.
Peplink’s powerful onboard firmware allowed us to monitor throughput, packet loss, and latency on each 4G link in real-time. When, during our competition run, one 4G link became unreliable in a certain area, we were able to notice latency and packet loss climb within seconds, allowing us to temporarily disable the link to prevent UDP packets from being delivered out of order. This reconfiguration was accomplished quickly and without any loss of connectivity.
Ultimately, our team was able to rank 2nd in this prestigious competition and this impressive result was in no small part thanks to the incredible support of Peplink and their impressive SpeedFusion technology.
In a challenging competition, fraught with unanticipated difficulties and pitfalls, Peplink’s networking gear was intuitive and simple to setup and configure; it performed every bit as well as advertised.
See the MIT Robotics Case Study