Autonomous Robots for Mars Exploration

With the aim of equipping students with robotics skills that could build on the success of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander’s space expedition carried out in 2008, the iNexus Robot Competition was held recently. The final round culminated in Mumbai, India.

A team of Swinburne students has developed a multi-robot system that won them second place at the world final.

The challenge set was that of replicating a manned spacecraft mission called Mars Manouevre. A manual robot (the spacecraft) must land on Mars and send out a swarm of autonomous robots to collect rock samples (blocks) that are then brought back to the spacecraft in a specified order.

The team built a manual robot that could act as the main command point as well as an autonomous robot tasked with going out onto the grid and bringing back blocks. The key was to ensure that the manual and autonomous robots were able to cooperate and collaborate in performing their respective tasks.

“The robots communicated through radio frequency waves. One robot would go and measure the dimensions of the grid while the second would start its mission of picking up blocks after getting the information,” Swinburne team leader Hoang Le said. “This year’s competition was a lot more complicated than previous years. The problem they set was very complex, very mechanical. We upgraded some of the robots we used in last year’s competition and developed new mechanisms that were better able to deal with the problem” he added.

In addition to Le, the Swinburne team also included Tuan Lu Anh Nguyen, Farshad Zarean and Abtin Mahdavi under the supervision of Professor Shihong Man from the Faculty of Engineering and Industrial Sciences. The team built and tested their competition robots over the course of the semester, using knowledge they gained from their course.

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