On the Moon, there are raw materials that humanity could one day mine and use. Various space agencies, such as the European Space Agency (ESA), are already planning missions to better explore Earth’s satellite and find minerals. This calls for appropriate exploration vehicles. Swiss researchers led by ETH Zurich are now pursuing the idea of sending not just one solitary rover on an exploration tour, but rather an entire team of vehicles and flying devices that complement each other.
The researchers equipped three ANYmal – a type of legged robot developed at ETH – with a range of measuring and analysis instruments that would potentially make them suitable exploration devices in the future. They tested these robots on various terrains in Switzerland and at the European Space Resources Innovation Centre (ESRIC) in Luxembourg, where, a few months ago, the Swiss team won a European competition for lunar exploration robots together with colleagues from Germany. The competition involved finding and identifying minerals on a test site modelled after the surface of the Moon. In the latest issue of the journal external pageScience Roboticscall_made, the scientists describe how they go about exploring an unknown terrain using a team of robots.
Insurance against failure
“Using multiple robots has two advantages,” explains Philip Arm, a doctoral student in the group led by ETH Professor Marco Hutter. “The individual robots can take on specialised tasks and perform them simultaneously. Moreover, thanks to its redundancy, a robot team is able to compensate for a teammate’s failure.” Redundancy in this case means that important measuring equipment is installed on several robots. In other words, redundancy and specialisation are opposing goals. “Getting the benefits of both is a matter of finding the right balance,” Arm says.