Engineers at the University of Arizona have developed a technology that would allow groups of robots to explore the underground environments of other worlds that can be used as habitats.
“Lava pipes and caves would be perfect habitats for astronauts, because you don’t need to build any structures and they are protected from harmful cosmic rays, so all you have to do is make them nice and cozy,” he explains in a statement. Wolfgang Fink, UArizona Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Fink is the lead author of a new paper published in Advances in Space Research detailing a communication network that pulls spacecraft, submarines, and even submersibles through a so-called network topology, allowing machines to operate on the equipment regardless of human intervention.
According to Fink and his co-authors, this approach can help solve one of the biggest gaps in space technology, helping to overcome the limited ability of current technology to safely traverse the orbits of comets, asteroids, moons and planetary bodies.
In a nod to the story of “Hansel and Gretel,” the researchers confirmed their patent-pending concept of the “bread-style dynamically unfolded communication network” paradigm, or DDCN.
“If you remember the book, you know that Hansel and Gretel had to leave their brains to find their way,” said Fink, founder and director of Caltech’s Visual and Autonomous Systems Research Laboratory and UArizona. “In our case, the breadcrumbs are equipped with sensors that are embedded in the pirates, who deploy them while traveling through the cave or underground environment.”
Always monitoring their surroundings and knowing where they are in space, the chessmen move forward on their own, connected to each other through a wireless data link, setting up communication nodes along the way. When the vehicle detects that the signal decreases but is still within range, it drops the communication node, due to the space elapsed from the last node placed.
“One of the innovations is what we call opportunistic deployment: the concept of ‘breadcrumbs’ being deployed when needed and not according to a predetermined schedule,” explains Fink. At all times the intervention of the matrix vehicle is not necessary; Each vehicle will be subordinated, Fink added, at its discretion. The system can work in two ways, Fink explained. In one of them, the mother vehicle acts as a passive receiver, collecting data transmitted by vehicle probes. In the other, the mother of the vehicle acts as the orchestrator, controlling the movements of the vehicles like a puppet.