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Scientific exploration of challenging planetary analog environments with a team of legged robots


Arm, Philip; Waibel, Gabriel; Preisig, Jan; Tuna, Turcan; Zhou, Ruyi; Bickel, Valentin; Ligeza, Gabriela; Miki, Takahiro; Kehl, Florian; Kolvenbach, Hendrik; Hutter, Marco (2023). Scientific exploration of challenging planetary analog environments with a team of legged robots. Science Robotics, 8(80):eade9548.

Abstract

The interest in exploring planetary bodies for scientific investigation and in situ resource utilization is ever-rising. Yet, many sites of interest are inaccessible to state-of-the-art planetary exploration robots because of the robots’ inability to traverse steep slopes, unstructured terrain, and loose soil. In addition, current single-robot approaches only allow a limited exploration speed and a single set of skills. Here, we present a team of legged robots with complementary skills for exploration missions in challenging planetary analog environments. We equipped the robots with an efficient locomotion controller, a mapping pipeline for online and postmission visualization, instance segmentation to highlight scientific targets, and scientific instruments for remote and in situ investigation. Furthermore, we integrated a robotic arm on one of the robots to enable high-precision measurements. Legged robots can swiftly navigate representative terrains, such as granular slopes beyond 25°, loose soil, and unstructured terrain, highlighting their advantages compared with wheeled rover systems. We successfully verified the approach in analog deployments at the Beyond Gravity ExoMars rover test bed, in a quarry in Switzerland, and at the Space Resources Challenge in Luxembourg. Our results show that a team of legged robots with advanced locomotion, perception, and measurement skills, as well as task-level autonomy, can conduct successful, effective missions in a short time. Our approach enables the scientific exploration of planetary target sites that are currently out of human and robotic reach.

Abstract

The interest in exploring planetary bodies for scientific investigation and in situ resource utilization is ever-rising. Yet, many sites of interest are inaccessible to state-of-the-art planetary exploration robots because of the robots’ inability to traverse steep slopes, unstructured terrain, and loose soil. In addition, current single-robot approaches only allow a limited exploration speed and a single set of skills. Here, we present a team of legged robots with complementary skills for exploration missions in challenging planetary analog environments. We equipped the robots with an efficient locomotion controller, a mapping pipeline for online and postmission visualization, instance segmentation to highlight scientific targets, and scientific instruments for remote and in situ investigation. Furthermore, we integrated a robotic arm on one of the robots to enable high-precision measurements. Legged robots can swiftly navigate representative terrains, such as granular slopes beyond 25°, loose soil, and unstructured terrain, highlighting their advantages compared with wheeled rover systems. We successfully verified the approach in analog deployments at the Beyond Gravity ExoMars rover test bed, in a quarry in Switzerland, and at the Space Resources Challenge in Luxembourg. Our results show that a team of legged robots with advanced locomotion, perception, and measurement skills, as well as task-level autonomy, can conduct successful, effective missions in a short time. Our approach enables the scientific exploration of planetary target sites that are currently out of human and robotic reach.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute for Computational Science
04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Anatomy
Dewey Decimal Classification:530 Physics
570 Life sciences; biology
610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Health Sciences > General Medicine
Uncontrolled Keywords:Artificial Intelligence, Control and Optimization, Computer Science Applications, Mechanical Engineering
Language:English
Date:12 July 2023
Deposited On:02 Feb 2024 17:16
Last Modified:31 May 2024 01:52
Publisher:American Association for the Advancement of Science
ISSN:2470-9476
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1126/scirobotics.ade9548
PubMed ID:37436970
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