MIT Robotics Team

Peplink Helps MIT Take Second Place in NASA Competition

Peplink’s networking gear was intuitive and simple to setup and configure; it performed every bit as well as advertised.”

MIT Robotics Team

Taking on a Planet-Sized Challenge

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. MIT was one of only eight universities selected by NASA to compete in this year’s Robo-Ops, and its newly-formed Robotics Team knew it would have to pull out all the stops to deliver a winning solution.

Studying the Link Between Human and Machine

In preparation against stiff competition, the MIT Robotics Team analyzed mountains of data from past runs conducted by other teams. Team members found one issue that played a huge role in the success of rover designs: communications. Simply put, robots need fast, reliable, and constant communication with human explorers, especially when countless hours of work are at stake.

The MIT team learned that other teams had consistently struggled with high-latency communication links, adversely affecting rover control. To top that off, signal dropouts caused precious seconds to be wasted in re-establishing connections, which could mean the difference between discovery and disaster.

To design and build a winning solution, the team required reliable and responsive communications, and it was soon clear that MIT would need multiple redundant connections with capacity for failover and bandwidth sharing.

Choosing a Communications Solution

Based on extensive research – and glowing reviews – the MIT team chose Peplink. Again and again, reviewers recommended Peplink routers because of their rich feature set and powerful load balancing, both of which would fit the bill nicely.

Initially the MIT team chose to use Pepwave’s MAX On-The-Go router with standard load balancing across two connections. But Peplink had an even better solution in mind.

…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.”

MIT Robotics Team

After setting up the team with the equipment it would need to reliably and rapidly communicate with its rover, Peplink became MIT Robotics’ Title Sponsor.

Putting Together the Solution

According to the MIT team, “Onboard the rover is a Pepwave MAX HD2 Mini router as the SpeedFusion client. At mission control, a Peplink Balance 580 router re-bonds the disassembled packets from the rover into a cohesive stream.”

MIT Robotics used two 4G LTE connections to build an Unbreakable VPN connection and instantly saw gains in bandwidth and reliability.

Peplink’s SpeedFusion technology ensured that connections load balanced and performed failover at the packet level. Should one connection go down, there would be no reconnection necessary and all sessions would remain persistent. As a bonus, the rover’s high bandwidth video stream could also split across both connections.

Software configuration was a breeze, as Peplink’s VPN kept the rover and mission control on the same local network. This also enabled the engineers to work on the rover’s software while it was being field tested, accelerating MIT’s development cycle. In addition, the team was able to monitor throughput, packet loss, and latency on each 4G link in real-time using Peplink’s comprehensive firmware.

Keeping 4G Communications Up and Running

Forty minutes into the competition, MIT Robotics encountered the single biggest issue they had feared — a cellular coverage dead spot.

“One of our 4G LTE connections encounters issues and begins dropping many UDP packets. Thanks to Peplink’s SpeedFusion hot failover technology, we are able to drop the degraded link without interrupting the connection and continue operation on our remaining 4G link from a competing provider.”

Posting an Impressive Result

Against deeply entrenched competitors, MIT Robotics managed to score a close second.

…this impressive result was in no small part thanks to the incredible support of Peplink and their impressive SpeedFusion technology.”

MIT Robotics Team