Exploring Mars for Real Estate: Autonomous Rovers Could Make House Hunting on the Red Planet a Reality
House hunting on Mars could soon become a reality, thanks to a new autonomous exploration system developed by researchers at the University of Arizona. The system, inspired by the Hansel and Gretel story, sees tracked rovers dropping wireless communication nodes as they explore, based on an “opportunistic deployment” schedule.
“If you remember the book, you know how Hansel and Gretel dropped breadcrumbs to make sure they'd find their way back,” said Wolfgang Fink, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UArizona and the founder and director of the Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory at Caltech and UArizona. “In our scenario, the ‘breadcrumbs' are miniaturized sensors that piggyback on the rovers, which deploy the sensors as they traverse a cave or other subsurface environment.”
Lava tubes and caves on other planets would make perfect habitats for astronauts, says Fink. Not only would they provide shelter from the elements, but they would also shield astronauts from harmful cosmic radiation. “You are shielded from harmful cosmic radiation, so all you need to do is make it pretty and cozy,” he said in a university press release.
The autonomous rovers remain connected to each other via a wireless data connection, and the mother rover monitors their progress. When a rover’s signal begins to weaken but is still within range, it drops a communication node regardless of how much distance has passed since the last node was dropped.
Fink and colleagues have already built functioning rovers along with the associated communication technology, and are now working on a dispersal mechanism for the nodes. The rovers are able to “switch between each other and compensate for dead spots and signal blackouts,” Tarbell said, “so the mother rover never loses connection to the farthest node in the network.”
The researchers hope that these rovers will one day be used to scout out real estate for future astronauts to use as habitats. With the technology already developed, the possibilities seem endless.
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1. “Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumb trick inspires robotic exploration system for caves on Mars and beyond” Phys.org, 1 Mar. 2023, https://phys.org/news/2023-03-hansel-gretel-breadcrumb-robotic-exploration.html
2. “Robots Using Hansel-and-Gretel Strategy Could Map Martian Caves” Gizmodo, 2 Mar. 2023, https://gizmodo.com/robots-hansel-and-gretel-strategy-map-martian-caves-1850177972
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