Rise of robots on Moon
A broad directive will be sent to the little robots’ base station aboard the 13-foot-tall lander, and they will elect a “leader” to distribute assignments.
The Moon conquests brought back rocks, pebbles and soil that have sequestered its formative period. Examining the materials that Apollo 17 in 1972 packed off from the lunar surface revealed it is a type of mineral, Plagioclase, which is not extremely dense, but it rises to the surface of a magma ocean as it cools off. That created the crust. The six times that humans have been blasted off to the Moon, the accumulated ‘lunar heist’ is 842 pounds of rocks and other elements.
The Moon has retained its history. The prosaic rubble of rocks and dust, without any twinkle of romance as imagined by poets and captured in a litany of songs, contain chapters on the history of the solar system.
But when the human input is rescinded, can the same level of efficiency be maintained? NASA will be sending a trio of miniature rovers to the Moon to test their productivity minus the mission controllers back on Earth. These robots will be completely in an autonomous mode — working on their own, and together through coordination.
The rovers, set to land aboard a lander in 2024 as part of Nasa’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, will map the lunar surface in 3D using cameras and ground penetrating radar. After being lowered onto the Reiner Gamma region using tethers, the four-wheeled rovers will drive to find a sunbathing spot to open their solar panel and charge up. They will spend a full lunar day – about 14 Earth days – conducting experiments to exhibit their efficiency.
The agency’s CADRE (Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration) project can “change how we do exploration in the future. The question for future missions will become: ‘How many rovers do we send, and what will they do together?’” said Subha Comandur, the CADRE project manager at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California.
A broad directive will be sent to the little robots’ base station aboard the 13-foot-tall lander, and they will elect a “leader” to distribute assignments. A lunar team luncheon cannot be bereft of targets, and even robots the size of carry-on suitcases, are up for appraisals.
But sometimes it can be a little too stressful. So the CADRE team has built in a 30-minute wake-sleep cycle. The rovers will shut down every half an hour, cooling off radiators and recharging their batteries.
After waking up, via a mesh radio network, like a WhatsApp group, they will share their health status. But then a boss is not permanent, that may be ousted based on fitness levels. Another round of lunar exploration follows, during which they will use sensors to avoid obstacles, take a path of their choice, and explore a designated area of 4,300 sqft creating a topographic 3D map through stereo cameras. If the mission is successful, robots can enter hazardous but scientific minefields of information.
“You only tell them the high-level goal, and they have to determine how to accomplish it,” said JPL Jean-Pierre de la Croix, CADRE’s principal investigator. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages CADRE for the Game Changing Development programme within Nasa’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington.