Using Teamwork in Robotic Exploration of Lunar Surface for Mineral Identification

Swiss scientists from ETH Zurich have developed a team of robots to explore the lunar surface and identify minerals more effectively. The researchers equipped three ANYmal legged robots with various measuring and analysis instruments, making them suitable for future lunar exploration. The team tested these robots on different terrains in Switzerland and at the European Space Resources Innovation Centre (ESRIC) in Luxembourg.

Utilizing multiple robots has several advantages. Each robot can perform specialized tasks simultaneously, and the redundancy of a team ensures compensation for any individual robot’s failure. The scientists at ETH Zurich and other Swiss universities solved this problem by equipping two of the legged robots as specialists. One robot specialized in terrain mapping and the classification of geology, while the other was programmed to identify rocks using a Raman spectrometer and microscope camera. The third robot, a generalist, was capable of both mapping the terrain and identifying rocks with less precision.

The researchers achieved a balance between redundancy and specialization, making their exploration system resilient to potential failures. The team won a research contract from the ESRIC and ESA Space Resources Challenge for incorporating redundancy into their system. The researchers plan to further develop this technology by combining legged robots and wheeled robots to better navigate different terrains. Additionally, they are exploring the inclusion of flying robots into the team.

The scientists also aim to enhance the autonomy of the robots by allowing them to assign tasks to each other. Currently, all data flows into a control center, where an operator assigns tasks to individual robots. However, in the future, semi-autonomous robots could directly assign certain tasks to each other, reducing the need for operator intervention.

This research demonstrates the importance of teamwork in robotic exploration of the lunar surface. By utilizing a coordinated fleet of specialized robots, scientists can efficiently identify and extract valuable resources from the Moon.

Reference: “Scientific exploration of challenging planetary analog environments with a team of legged robots” by Philip Arm, Gabriel Waibel, Jan Preisig, Turcan Tuna, Ruyi Zhou, Valentin Bickel, Gabriela Ligeza, Takahiro Miki, Florian Kehl, Hendrik Kolvenbach, and Marco Hutter, 12 July 2023, Science Robotics. [Source: Science Robotics]