The need for and feasibility of alternative ground robots to traverse sandy and rocky extraterrestrial terrain

by   Chen Li, et al.

Robotic spacecraft have helped expand our reach for many planetary exploration missions. Most ground mobile planetary exploration robots use wheeled or modified wheeled platforms. Although extraordinarily successful at completing intended mission goals, because of the limitations of wheeled locomotion, they have been largely limited to benign, solid terrain and avoided extreme terrain with loose soil/sand and large rocks. Unfortunately, such challenging terrain is often scientifically interesting for planetary geology. Although many animals traverse such terrain at ease, robots have not matched their performance and robustness. This is in major part due to a lack of fundamental understanding of how effective locomotion can be generated from controlled interaction with complex terrain on the same level of flight aerodynamics and underwater vehicle hydrodynamics. Early fundamental understanding of legged and limbless locomotor-ground interaction has already enabled stable and efficient bio-inspired robot locomotion on relatively flat ground with small obstacles. Recent progress in the new field of terradynamics of locomotor-terrain interaction begins to reveal the principles of bio-inspired locomotion on loose soil/sand and over large obstacles. Multi-legged and limbless platforms using terradynamics insights hold the promise for serving as robust alternative platforms for traversing extreme extraterrestrial terrain and expanding our reach in planetary exploration.



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