Au-Spot, an AI robot dog, trains to explore caves on Mars

NASA and JPL-Caltech are creating Martian "dogs" that can maneuver like the iconic wheeled

ATVs like Spirit, Opportunity,Curiosity and the recently released Perseverance, and even do what they can't. The new robots' agility and stability are combined with sensors that allow them to avoid obstacles, choose between multiple paths and build virtual maps of buried tunnels and caves for operators at their home base, the scientists said.

Traditional rovers are mostly limited toflat surfaces, but many scientifically interesting regions of Mars are reachable only on very rugged terrain or by going underground. Walking robotic dogs are well suited for such tasks - even if they fall, they can get up again.

Mars Dog will also be about 12 times lightermodern rovers and will be able to travel much faster, reaching a normal speed of 5 km / h during tests. At the same time, the Curiosity rover moves along the surface of Mars at a speed of about 0.14 km / h.

According to NASA, caves on Mars could becomea haven for future human colonies, providing natural protection against deadly ultraviolet radiation, extreme cold, and violent dust storms that can last for weeks and are sometimes large enough to be seen through telescopes on Earth. Caves can also serve as a source of evidence for the existence of life from the distant past of Mars, or even serve as home to organisms that live deep underground. Robots on legs that can walk around rocks, descend into caves and choose a path, as well as collect measurements and build a map of what they "see".

Autonomous robot Mars, dubbedThe Au-Spot is a modified version of the Spot, a four-legged mechanical explorer created by the robotics company Boston Dynamics. More than 60 scientists and engineers on the Collaborative SubTerintage Autonomous Resilient Robots (CoSTAR) team have equipped the Au-Spot with networked sensors and software to help it scan, navigate and map its environment safely and autonomously.

Au-Spot processes input from lidars(remote sensing using laser pulses), visual, thermal and motion sensors to create 3D maps. Mars Dog also uses AI to learn which structures to avoid and identify objects that may be of scientific interest, while the communications module allows the robot to transmit data to the surface while it explores underground.

CoSTAR team members are testing Au-Spot ondifferent obstacle courses, overcoming difficulties in tunnels and corridors; up stairs and ramps; and outdoors, simulating Martian landscapes, such as in lava tubes in Northern California. These demos show that untethered robots can navigate boulders and map deep caves.

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