A fleet of land and airborne robots has been developed to mine, excavate, and even build on the Moon.
Earth’s satellite is rich in resources, including basalt, iron, quartz, and silicon that could help set up a human colony.
Lead author Philip Arm, a doctoral student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, said: “Using multiple robots has two advantages.
“The individual robots can take on specialized tasks and perform them simultaneously. Moreover, thanks to its redundancy, a robot team is able to compensate for a teammate’s failure.”
Important measuring equipment would be installed on several machines — “Getting the benefits of both is a matter of finding the right balance,” said Arm.
The researchers solved this problem by equipping two of the robots as specialists. One was programmed to be particularly good at mapping the terrain and classifying the geology. It used a laser scanner and several cameras – some of them capable of spectral analysis – to gather initial clues about the mineral composition of the rock. The other was taught to precisely identify rocks using a scanning device and a microscopy camera. A third was a generalist – able to both map the terrain and identify rocks. It had a broader range of tasks. But its equipment meant that it could perform these tasks with less precision.
“This makes it possible to complete the mission should any one of the robots malfunction,” Arm said.
The day when humans will live in outer space, on the Moon, and on Mars, is ‘just around the corner,’ scientists have claimed.
But they will need to be self-sufficient. The world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Sir Richard Branson are exploring space tourism – with permanent housing on the Moon.
An entire team of vehicles and flying devices that complement each other would be more appropriate than a single rover.
The Swiss team’s robots have been dubbed ANYmal’s. They each have three legs and are equipped with a range of measuring and analysis instruments that would potentially make them suitable future exploration devices.
They tested three on various terrains in Switzerland and at the European Space Resources Innovation Centre (ESRIC) in Luxembourg.
The researchers won a European competition for lunar exploration robots a few months ago. It involved finding and identifying minerals on a test site modeled after the surface of the Moon.
The researchers also plan to make the robots more autonomous. Presently, all data from the robots flow into a control center, where an operator assigns tasks to the individual robots.
In the future, semi-autonomous robots could directly assign certain tasks to each other, with control and intervention options for the operator. ANYmals are described in the journal Science Robotics.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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