When we thought about sending a rover to the moon, it had little to do with the possible prize that we could win. We wanted to send a rover to the moon because we wanted to. While it is a lot of work, it is also tons of fun to put yourself up to such a challenge. For the past 2.5 years, we have been working tirelessly to pursue our dream of having a big fancy RC-car on another celestial body.
I personally hope that one day there will be space tourism, where you can take a vacation on the moon. How awesome would it be to go there with your child and say: “Hey look, your old man put this rover on here like 40 years ago…?” Of course he would be pretty underwhelmed and might say: “Yeah, yeah, we’re building rovers now in kindergarten, in case you forgot.”
But there is more to it than this rather personal motivation. Back in the seventies when the race to the moon was on, lots of people were sitting excitedly in front of the TV and watching the moon landing. Many of those remembered this moment their whole life. But for a few of those, this moment was life-changing. In their mind they thought: “Wow, this is awesome! When I grow up, I want to become an engineer and do stuff like this!”
While our western society might have produced very nice consumer products in the past, this no longer is our strong-hold. If we, as a society, want to keep our living standards, we have to build something different. We have to build highly skilled people. People that can dream and realize new things that make the society move forward. For this to happen we need to have good education. And for good education we need to excite people about it.
THIS is what we want, THIS is what we do! With our mission to the moon, done by regular John Does who are enthusiastic about this one goal, we can not only send a rover to the moon, but we can energize a whole new generation to come. We want people to see what’s possible if they just want to! This is not just some marketing blah blah. We already did it, and we’re doing it again and again. As proof I want to show you one of the many examples where we succeeded in inspiring people.
Occasionally some schools (high schools) are visiting our TU Hamburg-Harburg (university), and sometimes I have the opportunity to talk to the students. While I regularly hear that some students make up their mind to pursue a particular course of study at the TU, that one time a very passionate guy came to me. He was extraordinarily excited about what we do and wanted to build a rover on his own. With no knowledge about electronics whatsoever, we gave him a book to read, Make: Electronics from our partner O’Reilly. He read it all and played around with the PicAxe microcontrollers. Some ended up releasing magic blue smoke, but others successfully made some LEDs blink.
After that initial success, he wanted more. He wanted to build a rover, one like he had seen at the presentation, the R0 rover. We discussed how to build one of those and he started tinkering; a few weeks later, he came back to me with an almost working self-soldered piece of PCB. We quickly looked through it and made it work. He then built the rover itself from plexi-glass and used (hacked) servos, just as we do with our R0s. The result can be seen in this video:
Before he saw our presentation, he never thought about doing something with electronics. Just a few weeks later, he not just learned how to solder, how to build electronics and how to program a microcontroller, but he also built a rover on his very own, something he would have never thought of doing before. THIS is inspiration.