Ground autonomous mini-mobile robots have important potential applications, such as reconnaissance, patrol, planetary exploration and military applications. To accomplish tasks on rough-terrain, control and planning methods must consider the physical characteristics of the vehicle and of its environment. Failure to understand these characteristics could lead to vehicle endangerment and mission failure. This paper describes recent and current work at Mobile Robotics Laboratory of the Politecnico of Bari in the area of rough terrain mobility and traversability of autonomous vehicles. A cylindrical shaped mobile robot is presented and its rolling motion on rough terrain is studied from both theoretical and experimental prospect. A comprehensive vehicle dynamic model is proposed based on well-established physical models of mobile robot-terrain interaction. The model is experimentally validated and it allows employing the vehicle as a tactile sensor for terrain characterization and identification. Innovative vision-based-methods are also introduced for estimating relevant kinematic parameters of the vehicle motion. It is shown that the dynamic model can describe efficiently the vehicle behavior and could enhance its mobility on rough-terrain through integration with control and planning algorithms.

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