Mars Dogs: Biomimetic Robots for the Exploration of Mars, from its Rugged Surface to its Hidden Caves
Mars Dogs operate in synergy, exhibiting collaborative mobility behaviours to accomplish diverse missions that cannot be fulfilled by a single robot. An array of lava tubes on the southeastern flank of Pavonis Mons in the Tharsis Region of Mars offers an ideal location to release a pack of Mars Dogs. This region is of interest to scientists as it offers access to the Mars subsurface, where evidence of past or extant life may persist, and a potential shelter to future human inhabitants.
The MD concept has evolved from our experience using the stable and nimble Boston Dynamics “Spot” quadruped. We endowed Spot with a high-level autonomy/AI framework referred to as “NeBula”, developed by our JPL/Caltech Team CoSTAR. Our “Autonomous Spot” platform has advanced the current state-of-the-art in legged exploration and traversal of extreme and subsurface environments, propelling us to a 1st-place finish in the 2020 DARPA Subterranean Challenge with a system similar to that which we envision for Mars Dogs. Through partnership with the NASA BRAILLE Team, we will apply this technology to the exploration of lava tubes in N. California, an analog environment for future missions to volcanic caves on Mars.