Explore the moon with four-legged jumping robots

A four-legged robot has been trained with artificial intelligence to explore the most challenging terrain of the Moon.

Artificial intelligence It was used to train a four-legged robot to jump when on the moon – the best way to move around its surface. The Legged Exploration of the Aristachus Plateau (LEAP), a mission concept study funded by the European Space Agency, aims to use the LEAP rover to discover the Aristarchus Plateau on the Moon, an area that is currently inaccessible. The robot will allow further exploration of the geological history of the Moon, as it is designed to overcome challenges faced by conventional lunar modules.

Advantages of LEAP Mobile Vehicle

The LEAP rover concept was based on the ETH Zürich robot, ANYmal. Now, ANYmal has been adapted to the lunar environment by a consortium of ETH Zurich, and Max Planck Institute for Solar System Researchand OHB, University of Münster and The Open University.

Conventional roving vehicles have been used for many years; However, they have various drawbacks that the newly adapted ANYmal is set to overcome.

Patrick Bambach of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany explained the drawbacks of conventional rovers and explained: “Conventional rover has made great discoveries on the Moon and Mars, but it has limitations.

“Exploring terrain with loose soil, large rocks, or slopes greater than 15 degrees is particularly challenging with wheels. For example, its mission to Mars, Spirit, was terminated when it got stuck in the sand.”

In contrast, the ANYmal can cover large distances in a short period of time, climb steep slopes, deploy scientific instruments, and recover in the unlikely event of falls, due to its ability to move in different walking gaits. Moreover, the robot can use its legs to explore the moon further, by digging channels in the soil, overturning boulders or small boulders, and taking samples.

LEAP’s roving vehicle is based on the two-legged robot, ANYmal, developed at ETH Zürich and spin-off ANYbotics. © ETH Zürich / Robotics System Lab (RSL)

The robot was initially trained using a reinforcement learning approach in a virtual environment to replicate the characteristics of lunar terrain, gravity, and dust. He was also deployed in the field for a walk in the fresh air.

“Interestingly, Animal began to use a kinematic position similar to jumping, just as the Apollo astronauts did — realizing that jumping can be more energy efficient than walking,” Bambach said.

Currently, the robot weighs less than 50 kg, has a payload mass of 10 kg, and is capable of carrying multispectral sensors, ground-penetrating radar, mass spectrometers, gravimeters, and other devices.

LEAP goals and future uses

The robot has the ability to explore the most challenging terrain of the Moon, as Bambach explained: “The LEAP target is the Aristarchus Plateau, an area of ​​the Moon that is particularly rich in geological features but extremely difficult to reach.

“Using the robot, we can investigate key features to study the geological history of the Moon and its evolution, such as ejecta around craters, new impact sites, and collapsed lava tubes, where materials may not have changed due to space weathering and other processes.”

“LEAP’s ability to collect selected samples and bring them to the lander or ascent provides additional exciting opportunities for sample return missions in extremely challenging environments on the Moon or Mars.”

The LEAP team aims to integrate the robot into the European Space Agency’s Large Logistics Lander (EL3) module, which is scheduled to land on the Moon several times from late 2020 to early 2030.

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