Asimov, the autonomous Lunar Rover

In 2008, a group of German researchers better known as Part-Time Scientists (PTS) joined efforts to build their own lunar rover as a competition entry for the 'Google Lunar X PRIZE'. The award offered to the winning entry - a safe landing on the Moon by the end of 2015. This competition contributes to the development of space missions by private companies and groups. The latest example of this is the successful flights of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft; in May and in October this year, their spacecraft reached the International Space Station, ISS.

Asimov Jr. R3 was developed in collaboration with DLR. Its dimensions - 60 centimetres in length, 40 centimetres in width, 50 centimetres in height and a weight of roughly 29 kilograms. DLR contributed the propulsion technology that was successfully demonstrated between 2005 and 2010 on ROKVISS, a robot arm mounted on the exterior of the ISS.

Its autonomous navigation, based on semi-global matching (SGM) environmental perception technology, was exhibited at ILA 2012. All the human operator must do is indicate a few target points in the camera image; the rover then finds its way to these target points safely, autonomously and without prior knowledge of the surrounding terrain. This technology, developed by DLR, is needed because the long signal transmission times when controlling space robots remotely can be very cumbersome and entail a high risk of the rover getting stranded in relatively impenetrable terrain. In contrast to the NASA Mars rovers 'Spirit', 'Opportunity' and 'Curiosity', DLR is placing its faith in the implementation of modern processes directly inside the logic unit of a microchip (FPGA), an environment capable of withstanding the harsh radiation condition of outer space, possessing far more computing power and therefore, having faster reaction times, the key to a safer 'drive' for the rover. With regard to terrestrial applications of autonomous navigation, DLR is developing robots capable of working in groups to provide rescue personnel in disaster-struck areas with an up-to-the-minute overview and other useful information.

Last modified: 08/10/2012 12:06:31

URL for this article

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Lunar Rover Asimov

Mondrover Asimov

Asimov perfectly manages driving through loose material. So it shouldn't be a big challenge to cope with smaller crater slopes on the Moon.

Links

  • DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics
    (http://www.dlr.de/rm/en/desktopdefault.aspx/)
  • Part-Time Scientists
    (http://www.ptscientists.com/)
  • Google Lunar X Prize
    (http://www.googlelunarxprize.org/)