Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Engineering have developed a robotic fleet capable of seeking out space real estate.

The robotic fleet is designed to explore subsurface environments of other planets — for instance, lava tubes and caves — to serve as future habitats for astronauts. Such structures would potentially shield astronauts from cosmic radiation.

Source: Wolfgang Fink/University of Arizona Source: Wolfgang Fink/University of Arizona

The researchers are making this possible thanks to a communication network linking rovers, lake landers and submersible vehicles via a mesh topology network that enables machines to work together.

Through a concept dubbed the Breadcrumb Style Dynamically Deployed Communication Network (DDCN) paradigm, the team will attempt to safely traverse environments on comets, asteroids, moons and planetary bodies by dropping so-called breadcrumbs in the form of mini sensors.

"If you remember the book, you know how Hansel and Gretel dropped breadcrumbs to make sure they'd find their way back. In our scenario, the 'breadcrumbs' are miniaturized sensors that piggyback on the rovers, which deploy the sensors as they traverse a cave or other subsurface environment," the researchers explain.

According to the team, the rovers are linked by a wireless data connection and deploy communication nodes. As these rovers constantly monitor their environments, they are also capable of sensing when a signal is fading, but still within range. As such, the rover is designed to deploy a communication node, no matter the distance it has already covered since placing the last node.

In other words, the rovers can independently navigate underground environments without ever losing contact with their "mother rover" located on the surface.

Instead, all of the data collected by the rovers is transmitted to the mother rover on the surface, making it unnecessary to retrieve the rovers once they have completed their tasks.

The technology is detailed in the article, A Hansel & Gretel Breadcrumb-Style Dynamically Deployed Communication Network Paradigm using Mesh Topology for Planetary Subsurface Exploration, which appears in the journal, Advances in Space Research.

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