Research ArticleSPACE ROBOTS

Material remodeling and unconventional gaits facilitate locomotion of a robophysical rover over granular terrain

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Science Robotics  13 May 2020:
Vol. 5, Issue 42, eaba3499
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aba3499

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Abstract

Autonomous robots and vehicles must occasionally recover from locomotion failure in loosely consolidated granular terrain. Recent mobility challenges led NASA Johnson Space Center to develop a prototype robotic lunar rover Resource Prospector 15 (RP15) capable of wheeled, legged, and crawling behavior. To systematically understand the terradynamic performance of such a device, we developed a scaled-down rover robot and studied its locomotion on slopes of dry and wet granular media. Addition of a cyclic-legged gait to the robot’s wheel spinning action changes the robot dynamics from that of a wheeled vehicle to a locomotor paddling through frictional fluid. Granular drag force measurements and modified resistive force theory facilitate modeling of such dynamics. A peculiar gait strategy that agitates and cyclically reflows grains under the robot allows it to “swim” up loosely consolidated hills. Whereas substrate disturbance typically hinders locomotion in granular media, the multimode design of RP15 and a diversity of possible gaits facilitate formation of self-organized localized frictional fluids that enable effective robust transport.

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