The moon’s best friend: robot dogs could be future lunar explorers

Future lunar explorers could not only bark at the moon, but also search for scientific answers.

Dog-shaped robots could be used on future lunar missions, because humanity’s best friend is already an agile explorer. Jumping, digging and exploring high ground are all dogs look forward to Earth.

Now, researchers hope to replicate that agility on the moon for the Nasa-LEDs Artemis program which could land astronauts later in the 2020s.

The robot dog concept is called LEAP, or Legged Exploration of the Aristarchus Plateau; Aristarchus is one of the regions of the moon that the European Space Agency or ESA (which funds the project) hopes to explore soon.

Video: Watch a NASA lunar rover complete a lunar obstacle course

“With the robot, we can study key features to study the geological history and evolution of the moon, such as ejecta around craters, fresh impact sites and collapsed lava tubes, where material does not may not have been altered by space weathering and other processes,” Patrick Bambach, an engineer at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, said in a statement. (opens in a new tab).

The dog-like robot could roll on the surface of ESA’s large European logistics lander (opens in a new tab) (EL3), which is responsible for sending payloads and experiments to the surface of the moon from the late 2020s. The dog form is based on a legged robot called ANYmal which was developed at the ETH Zürich and its spin-off ANYbotics.

Between ANYmal’s varied gaits, its ability to turn around in the event of a fall and its agility to climb steep slopes, it’s a lunar exploration like we never imagined. ANYmal can even dig channels in the ground or use its paws to turn over rocks to see what’s underneath.

Related: Meet Au-Spot, the AI ​​robot dog who trains to explore caves on Mars

The LEAP rover is based on the legged robot, ANYmal, developed at ETH Zürich and its spin-off ANYbotics. (Image credit: ETH Zürich/ETH Zürich/Robotics System Lab (RSL))

“Traditional rovers have made great discoveries on the moon and March, but have limitations,” Bambach said. “Exploring terrain with loose soil, large rocks or slopes over 15 degrees is especially difficult with wheels. For example, the Martian roverSpirit, saw his mission complete when he got stuck in the sand.”

The research is still in its early stages, but so far the team has deployed the robot in a virtual environment intended to simulate a moon-like surface, as well as gravity and just properties. The dog was also taken, naturally, for a walk outside.

The researchers were surprised at how smart the robot was in its first tests. On the moon-like surface, where gravity is only one-sixth that of Earth, “ANYmal began using a jump-like mode of locomotion, much like the Apollo astronauts – realizing that jumping may be more energy efficient than walking”. said Bambach.

When complete, the team hopes the robot dog will weigh less than 110 pounds (50 kg), one-fifth of which is science payloads. AnyMAL will be asked to carry anything from multispectral sensors, radars to see under the ground, to spectrometers to assess the composition of nearby rocks. The date of the first flight has not yet been announced.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Where Facebook (opens in a new tab).

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