Designing a better rover
Alumnus is helping NASA launch a fleet of mini rovers to explore new worlds.
Bristling with cameras, the Perseverance rover has spent much of the past year scouting Mars for signs of life. Yet there are plenty of nooks and crannies on the Martian landscape where the bulky rover, about the size of a small SUV, dare not go. A rover stuck on Mars is stuck for good.
For future missions, NASA is considering a fleet of nimble, robotic mini-rovers that can work together to complete a task. If one fails or is lost, the others would carry on.
Alex Schepelmann ’09, MS ’10, PhD, a robotics and computational modeling engineer at the NASA Glenn Research Center, described the Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration (CADRE) project to MIT Technology Review. He said he and his colleagues are designing shoebox-sized rovers that will collect data in hard-toreach places, like craters and caves. They hope to test one in the coming years on the moon.
“The idea there is that [if] we have two or three rovers that we could send, one of them could potentially go down into a lava tube,” said Schepelmann, who earned two mechanical engineering degrees at Case. “And we would basically know that that rover would have a hard time getting back out.”
That’s not a catastrophe, Schepelmann said. Even if one rover gets stuck in a lava tube, it can still relay information to other members of the team — who will motor on.
The new rovers are being tested at Glenn’s Simulated Lunar Operations (SLOPE) Laboratory, which simulates the powdery soil of the moon and the rocky Martian surface. As they allow us to explore areas that otherwise are out of reach, they may make the solitary rover like Perseverance obsolete.