Thursday, March 21, 2013

On track, and on fire!

While I may be a robot-busting-ninja by night, I'm a mild-mannered project manager by day. So naturally I took to laying out the rover build as a project.

Since I don't have access to my day-job tools for this (Microsoft Project), I use a project planner tool from Simple Genius, simply called 'SG Project', for the iPad. And a little secret about it?

It rocks.

Way better than MS Project.


If you haven't seen any sort of project management done before, even on paper, most methodologies generally will organize tasks into a few major buckets for a build project like this. A simplified version would look like this:

  1. Define the general requirements or parameters, scope, schedule, cost, and objectives. Even if you are doing this as a hobby, it will help your family understand your addiction pastime and how long it will take, and how much it will cost (and if they should hide their jewelery).

  2. A design phase, where drafts of the design can be 'thought-tested' (or sniff-tested) against what was learned in Step 1. If you do this step well, you shouldn't exceed your budget by too much.

  3. A build phase, where the parts are brought together, assembled, or otherwise created. It helps to give this step a lot of time; since it's my experience that garage sales, junk stores, and ebay (kinda all the same, no?) hold many interesting items, all of which take time to ship to you.

  4. A test phase, where things are tested separately and together (this is sometimes mixed in with Step 3). This is also where a good deal of debugging happens, because although it will test ok the first time you try it, it will go down in flames when you try and show it off. Remember JPL's unofficial mantra "Test as you fly". Or in my case, "Test as you drive". I don't know how I'm going to get 1000kg of sand and rocks into the basement to build my own Mars Yard, but somehow... maybe.

  5. An Operations phase, where it happens for real, often with spectators, and often with embarrassing / hilarious / combustible results.
If I get some time I'll start posting what my plan looks like, and how I'm progressing.

As a side note, I got the first shipment of parts today, which was mostly consumable supplies.

Among the small items was a roll of Kapton tape, which is kinda geeky, but is fairly resistant to high temperatures. So what's the big deal about that? Consider how much cash you could be pouring into your rover, and that it's electronics enclosures might be full of cheap electrical tape.

And then you get an itty-bitty over current situation... I want you to think twice about the amount and location of PVC tape you might be using, and if it could be exposed to flame due to a short or component failure:

If you recollect, Kapton got a bit of a bad rap in the airline industry, although I've read that Airbus still uses it; and of course NASA eats it for breakfast. The failure states it was tested in are pretty harsh, although worth considering.

But this simple comparison I think the results speak for themselves; I'd rather spend the extra $15 on a roll of Kapton than use too much PVC any day!

That is all!

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