In challenging planetary environments such as Mars, a diverse range of terrains must be traversed to deliver sensing instruments and achieve scientific goals. Stringent constraints are be placed on the power use, payload mass, and terrain tolerances of the robots that must carry these instruments over long distances for future missions to other planets. A single type of robot and mobility system is in many cases not capable of satisfying all the necessary constraints while providing efficient mobility over sand, rocks, and sloped areas, much less in caves and liquid environments.
This research focuses on the design, fabrication, and autonomous control of simple but dissimilar mobile robots for planetary use. Using the principles of wheeled tensegrity and superlight mobile structures, new types of mobile robot will be developed such that they are able to cooperate with each other to reach formerly inaccessible areas and complement each others’ strengths and weaknesses in harsh environments. Physical cooperation, combination movement, and novel mobility concepts are some potential methods by which to achieve advanced mobility on complex terrains under autonomous control.
Due to the separation from controllers on Earth, these robots will need to make decisions together, adapt to their environment, and deal with unexpected situations in an appropriate manner fully autonomously and could as a group be capable of performing operations such as inspection, assembly/reconfiguration, and construction of future human habitats or other hardware systems. Group sensing and control can make use of software tools developed for space robotics, including the CDFF framework developed in the InFuse project.