NASA suggests use of robotic dogs to explore the remotest corners of Mars

NASA suggests the use of robotic dogs to explore corners of Mars. This week the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) took place. Researchers from NASA / JPL-Caltech have participated in it, who have taken the opportunity to unveil a curious and peculiar plan to exploration and explore some of the most hidden corners of Mars : using autonomous robotic dogs similar to the Boston Dynamics Spot.

The idea is simple. While it is true that Rovers are capable of moving across the Earth’s surface, they are limited to that surface. They cannot enter caves easily and do not have the same maneuverability as devices like Spot. So why not equip a Spot-like dog with artificial intelligence and sensors of different kinds to venture into those unexplored corners? This is exactly where “Au-Spot” comes into play, the prototype that is already in the training phase.

Let the dog in to explore Mars

Au-Spot is based on the Spot of Boston Dynamics, a company now owned by Hyundai. The prototype has been developed and equipped by a team of more than 60 researchers from CoSTAR (Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Resilient Robots), who are already testing it in different controlled environments , including the lava tunnels that can be found in the north of California. This allows to know the performance of the robot in areas with characteristics similar to those of Martians.

As reported in Live Science, robotic dogs have a capacity for maneuver and recovery that Rovers do not have. Without going any further, with the appropriate algorithms the robot could stand up by itself if it falls, something very useful in rough areas such as a cave. In addition, it has the ability to detect obstacles and avoid them thanks to a LiDAR that, together with visual, thermal and movement sensors could be used to map a cave in three dimensions.

What’s more, a robotic dog would be much lighter than a Rover (twelve times, the researchers have explained) and could move significantly faster. In the tests that the researchers are carrying out, the modified Spot has reached 5 km / h, when Curiosity was moving at approximately 0.14 km / h.

In the abstract of the presentation, the researchers compare the “Martian dogs”, as they have been baptized, as Perseverance. Dogs have 2.6% of their volume, 4.6% of their mass, and they move 38 times faster. They also explain that a pack of “Martian dogs” includes an alpha equipped with cave exploration systems and an arm, and two attachments with a tether system. All three work in synergy.

Robotic dogs on Mars
Phases of a possible deployment of robotic dogs on Mars

One of the units would also carry a power supply and each of them would have deployable communication nodes to facilitate the transmission of live data from underground to the surface. As we can see, everything is designed for robots to work under the surface, and it has a reason. In the words of the researchers:

“This region is of interest to scientists as it offers access to the subsurface of Mars, where evidence of past or existing life may persist, and a potential refuge for future human inhabitants.”

Researchers have not revealed when these Martian dogs will be prepared to travel to Mars, if they ever are, so we will have to be aware. In any case, Mars is the next big step for humanity and tycoons such as Elon Musk have plans to launch manned missions to our neighboring planet: 2024 “if we are lucky” or 2026 “surely”.

Leave a Reply