Research led by ETH Zurich is exploring the idea of using a team of robots to explore the Moon’s raw materials. The team equipped three ANYmal robots with measuring and analysis instruments to test their suitability as lunar exploration devices. The robots were tested in 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 and published their findings in the journal Science Robotics.
Insurance against failure
Using multiple robots for exploration has two advantages. Firstly, each robot can specialize in specific tasks and perform them simultaneously. Secondly, if one robot fails, the rest of the team can compensate for the failure. This redundancy is achieved by installing important measuring equipment on several robots. The researchers at ETH Zurich and other universities solved this problem by equipping two of the robots as specialists. One robot was trained in mapping the terrain and classifying the geology, while the other was programmed to identify rocks using a Raman spectrometer and a microscopy camera. A third robot, which was a generalist, could both map the terrain and identify rocks, albeit with less precision.
Combination is key
The team’s exploration system impressed the judges at the ESRIC and ESA Space Resources Challenge, as it incorporated redundancy to ensure resilience against potential failures. As a result, the Swiss scientists and their colleagues received a one-year research contract. The researchers plan to further develop their technology by incorporating robots with wheels, in addition to legged robots. Robots with wheels can move faster on less challenging terrain, while legged robots excel in rocky and steep terrain. The team also aims to make the robots more autonomous, enabling them to assign tasks to each other.