Sun. Oct 1st, 2023
    Legged Robots: Exploring New Frontiers

    In a quest to develop the next generation of robotic space explorers, the European Space Agency (ESA) recently held the Space Resources Challenge. The challenge invited research groups to bring their prototype robots and test their ability to prospect for resources in a simulated moon environment. One of the winning teams, from the Robotic Systems Lab at ETH Zurich, created legged robots that showcased their potential for lunar exploration.

    The legged robots, based on commercially available models from ANYbotics, were customized with additional hardware and software by the Robotic Systems Lab. These modifications included a robotic arm for collecting samples and different gait patterns to navigate challenging terrains. The robots, about the size of a medium dog, were trained using reinforcement learning and could carry a payload of up to 33 pounds during the challenge.

    The ultimate goal of this research is to develop modular hardware systems that can be adapted for different missions. Rather than building new robots for each mission, future exploratory missions could utilize the base configuration of these legged robots and add or modify instruments and software as needed. This could significantly reduce costs and make hardware reusable, similar to the concept of CubeSats.

    Legged robots offer advantages over wheeled robots, such as the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers currently exploring Mars. While wheeled robots are efficient on flat terrains, legged robots excel in handling unpredictable and unstructured environments. This makes them ideal for exploring steep slopes, like those found in lunar craters, and underground regions such as lava tubes that could serve as shelter for future crewed missions.

    Teamwork is also a key aspect of robotic exploration. Rather than relying on a single robot, a team of legged robots could work together, each specializing in different tasks. For example, one robot could focus on mapping large areas quickly, while another carries scientific instruments for detailed investigations.

    Overall, legged robots offer a promising solution for exploring new environments that have never been seen before. With their agility, versatility, and ability to handle unexpected challenges, these robots could play a crucial role in future space exploration missions.

    – ETH Zurich (Robotic Systems Lab)