An Amateur Radio and Robotics Exploration Activity

MAREA is an aconym that stands for Mars Lander/Marine Amateur Radio Robotics Exploration Activity.  Its a hands-on learning activity designed to engage students in learning programming skills for command and control of land or marine robots, and to use Amateur Radio packet communications as the means of communication. Students can access the "network" of Amateur Radio packet stations, including stations on the International Space Station, to relay commands to robots in remote locations, down the hall, in the gymnaisum, in a park across town, on a local stream or at a partner school in another state.

What do you need to participate? 

  • A stand alone computer or laptop that can be used as the MAREA ground station
  • A robot platform (preferably the Parallax Boe-Bot®)
  • The local data link equipment (can be obtained for use in the webinar training through the ARRL ETP Progress Grant Program.)
  • A basic 2 meter ham radio with interfaces to connect the radio to the computer sound card so that live APRS transmissions can be used to control the robot. (Potential use of ETP Equipment Grant)
  • A time commitment to participate in the webinars. (Anticipated five, 1-1/2 hour webinar classes)

 What can you do with MAREA? 

Teachers can use the MAREA concept in a number of different ways:

1. By connecting an audio cable between the computer sound card microphone and earphone jacks, the commands transmitted on the computer terminal will be looped back and received by the packet program then sent via the UHF transceiver to the robot (Figure 8). This provides the opportunity for students to rehearse the maneuvers in their mission plan without transmitting the packets over the APRS system.

2. Have a second APRS station at the school (I use an APRS capable handheld radio) and use this radio to compose and transmit commands directly between the two APRS stations (Figure 9). This is a good way to test the RF connection to the APRS ground station.

3. Have a local ham transmit the commands from their home station to command the robot.

4. Coordinate with another school participating in the MAREA concept and have students at these connected schools command each other’s robots via the APRS system.

5. Set up an ISS capable satellite ground station and send your commands to the robot via the passing ISS.

6. Finally, have a distant school send commands to the robot via the ISS!

Another option: Intra-classroom and inter-school MAREA competitions

  • Task a team of students to develop a MAREA mission plan to navigate the maze to a target.
  • Set up an obstacle course or maze with a target area.
  • Competing teams could be within the classroom, between classes in the same school, between schools or even across state lines. It is all up the imagination of the teacher and students.

What connections to STEM and core science curriculum are addressed by the MAREA activity?


For more information, read: MAREA: Ham Radio Robotics