This article was originally published in the Otago Daily Times in March 2022: https://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/just-mars-rover-inspiration

Farmers – if you discover a six-wheeled robot terrifying your sheep in the Macraes area, do not panic. It just means Mark Campbell’s rover has suffered a minor technical fault.

The 15-year-old Logan Park High School pupil has built a fully functioning rover which is operating in an unused area of the OceanaGold Macraes Operation in East Otago and is being managed remotely from his Dunedin home via a 3G connection.

“It’s solar powered and it’s autonomous. All I have to do is put some points on a map on my laptop, and it will drive there by itself.”

It can drive for up to 11 hours each day. It also has a real-time camera and a time-lapse camera that takes a photo every 60 seconds which allows him to see the rover’s daily movements concisely.

Trials of his rover started around his home, then moved to the streets of Dunedin, and now it is navigating Martian-type terrain at Macraes.

“Originally, I was just looking at the Mars Rovers on YouTube and I thought that was pretty cool.

“Then I wanted to give it a crack myself. I started buying parts online and just started doing it.”

He said he did a lot of research online for designs and had spent the past two years bringing the rover to fruition using his own money (leveraged with in-kind funding from his parents), Otago Institute science fair prize money and a Ministry of Education grant.

 Mark was delighted when Macraes mine bosses allowed him to set up his rover in an unused part of the mine and was confident it would remain in the confines of the allotted space.

“The ground’s really loose and the gravel just slides underneath the wheels and it’s a big open area so there’s lots of room to drive around without being run over by one of those big dump trucks.

“Originally, I did this just for fun – achieving the goal of just being able to drive purely off solar power.

“I thought that was pretty out-of-reach for me, but it actually wasn’t.”

He now has ambitions of working for a tech company that builds robots and rovers which could explore other planets in our solar system.

“It would definitely be cool to work in that field.”

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