Skoltech scientists have proposed a concept for a modular Mars exploration rover. The new system consists of four two-wheeled robots that can operate independently or combine in various constellations. This approach will enable longer exploration missions that gather more information about the planet’s history, potential habitability, and possible traces of surface water or a prior life.
Since NASA’s Pathfinder landed on the Red Planet in 1997, researchers have used the same basic design which is a six-wheeled autonomous exploratory vehicle carrying a set of scientific instruments onboard. Scientists suggest that a Mars mission could accomplish more in the same timespan if it consists of several variously equipped robots simultaneously carrying out separate tasks at different locations and occasionally coming together for more challenging tasks.
Even when three of the four robots fail, the remaining one can still do a fair amount of work and transmit its findings to Earth. This maximizes the ultimate results of the mission by the time it terminates. When performing operations that require maximum stability, a pair of rovers with two wheels could assemble into a four-wheeler to be on the safe side and avoid falling over.
Artificial intelligence technologies supervising the swarm of mobile robots will open the doors to a new technological level of planetary exploration. Swarm robot technology intended for Mars exploration could also benefit lunar missions and even projects on Earth. Similar two-wheeled robots could be deployed to monitor the growth of agricultural plants and detect pests or diseases affecting them.