Lunar robot learned to jump | Science and life


So far, all successful lunar rovers and rovers have been wheeled: the Soviet Lunokhod-1 and Lunokhod-2, the Chinese Jade Hares and Zhurong, and a whole galaxy of NASA rovers from Sojourner to Perseverance. Wheeled vehicles, of course, are good off-road (and no roads have yet been found on the Moon and Mars), but even its possibilities are not unlimited. Steep slopes with loose soil, screes of large and small stones, and other uneven terrain significantly limit the ability of planetary rovers to travel freely across unexplored unearthly expanses. Although researchers would very much like to climb into such places, both on our satellite and on the Red Planet. Someone may suggest that a caterpillar rover would have better cross-country ability. Perhaps so, but any tracked vehicle has one unpleasant property – the track can come off the rollers or simply break, because of which the expensive device will stand still millions of kilometers from the Earth, and there will be no one to help him put on the caterpillar.

Then what could be better than six durable wheels for cross-country running? From the point of view of the evolution of living beings on Earth, there is nothing better than four legs for moving on land. Perhaps that is why the European Space Agency recently decided to organize a competition among designers for the best four-legged lunar robot that will possibly go to the Moon as part of a mission. European Large Logistic Lander on the plateau of Aristarchus. Participants of the competition (here we are talking about robots) compete in overcoming various irregularities of the lunar terrain, as well as in independent orientation in an unfamiliar environment, for example, when the connection with the “travel control center” is cut off.

One of the participants is a four-legged robot built by researchers at ETH Zurich. Lunobot is built on the basis of an industrial robot ANYmal. A robot weighing up to 100 kilograms can carry a payload of 10 kilograms, which includes a mass spectrometer, ground penetrating radar, multispectral cameras and other useful scientific instruments. Together with scientific cargo, it can climb rather steep slopes, get up on its own after falls, and even use its paws to dig small trenches and turn over small stones and boulders.

To train the robot to move on the lunar surface, researchers use elements of artificial intelligence. Surely you have seen spectacular demonstrations of the capabilities of such systems in the company’s videos. BostonDynamics. But what is interesting, when a similar robot was taught to move in conditions of simulated low gravity (on the Moon, gravity is almost 6 times less than on Earth), after a while, instead of walking, he preferred jumping as the most efficient and stable way of moving. Exactly like the astronauts of the Apollo program, who visited the moon in the 60-70s of the last century, did it. In low gravity, the chance of unwanted bouncing off the surface is greatly increased, especially during fast movement, as if soft springs were placed instead of legs for the robot. And here everything is, as in the saying – “if you can not win, lead.” Therefore, instead of fighting with excessive jumping ability, it turned out to be easier to use it for good. It is noteworthy that it was not the researchers themselves who pushed the robot to such a conclusion, but it was the decision of the artificial intelligence system itself. In the meantime, we will wait for the moment when such “dogs” jump on the lunar craters, besides, during this time they may learn something else interesting.

Based on materials Phys.org.


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