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Autonomous Resource Rover

Autonomous Resource Rover
21 Oct

Autonomous Resource Rover

A resource rover is an extraterrestrial vehicle used for space exploration as well as resource extraction on various celestial bodies.

Several companies and research groups are developing rovers to explore the surface of Mars to verify its sustenance for humans. However, STAC, in partnership with the NASA Ames Research Center, aims to build an autonomous resource rover that steps further to enable commercial flights and bases on the Moon, which has areas that still remain unknown and uninhabited.

Humans are currently unable to access most of the moon’s extensive resources. There is an abundance of water trapped in the Moon’s ice caps, vast areas of heavy metals within the ilmenite region, and volatiles scattered across the Moon’s surface. With the help of a resource rover that is fully controllable and autonomous, STAC will extract these resources, and either return them to Earth for our utilization, or maintain a resource bank on the Moon itself. As research has shown, a resource bank of extracted water can ease the costs of space travel by splitting hydrogen and oxygen atoms to create rocket fuel.

Modern AI technology has enabled the ability for even further autonomy in tasks like navigation, exploration, and resource extraction. Current rovers require significant human intervention to operate, which is time consuming and strenuous. Automating this allows us to fully utilize the limited assets that we have on the moon. STAC aims to research the application of state-of-the-art deep learning techniques to safe and efficient rover control as well as high level tasks such as collecting resources.

Figure 1: Deep Q Learning Architecture

Because these rovers will have autonomous capabilities, they will be extremely easy to maintain and multiply. The end goal is to implement an array of these rovers that all work together to build their own community on the Moon. Once the rovers become powerful and skilled enough, they will be able to use the resources that they extract to aid humans in space exploration.

Figure 2: Autonomous Mode Demo in Simulator

Below are animations of our rover in a moon simulator we built:

Figure 3: Autonomous Rover in Moon Simulator

Figure 4: Autonomous Rover in Moon Simulator