Exploring alien worlds with robotic teams: Test mission on Mt. Etna

(Nanowerk News) High-performance teams can reach goals where individuals fail despite outstanding skills. Scientists from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and other research institutes are applying this principle to robotics. In the future, they aim to explore unreachable places like the Moon or Mars with specialized teams of robots.
In the Helmholtz Future Project ARCHES, such teams of robots work as “virtual arms and eyes” of humans. Now they are putting their abilities to the test during the “Space” demo mission on the Sicilian volcano Mt. Etna from June 28 to July 1, 2022.
The ROBEX Lightweight Rover Unit (LRU) during a very unusual outdoor test on Mount Etna. The environment here is similar to a Martian landscape, for example. The LRU can be put through its paces in tests on difficult terrain. (Image: DLR)
The aim of ARCHES (which stands for Autonomous Robotic Networks to Help Modern Societies) is to assemble teams of interconnected robots that can independently set up equipment or take samples in hostile environments like Mars or the seafloor.
Capabilities planned for the machines include grasping and manipulating objects previously unknown to them, adapting to changing surroundings, and assigning and coordinating tasks within the team.
The tests in Sicily are intended to demonstrate what has been achieved so far. Etna’s volcanic landscape offers geological conditions similar to those on the Moon and Mars, making it a good test environment. The German Aerospace Center heads the ARCHES project and is coordinating the demo mission.
Researchers at KIT’s Institute for Control Systems (IRS) developed a robotic arm as a haptic human-machine interface. “It enables people and machines to jointly drive a rover across Etna’s volcanic landscape,” says Sean Kille of IRS. In addition, various robotic swarms, coordinated via planning algorithms or controlled by humans, will go on exploration missions. In a further mission, a humanoid hand developed at KIT’s Institute for Anthropomatics and Robotics will autonomously gather rock samples (GEO MISSION I).
Source: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
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