Scientists Develop 'Hansel And Gretel' Method To Help Robots Explore New Worlds

Researchers from the University of Arizona have developed new technology that will allow flocks of robots to go house hunting on other planets. Dr. Wolfgang Fink, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UArizona, is the lead author of a new paper, that outlines how rovers, lake landers, and even submersible vehicles could communicate with each other over a network that could greatly expand our ability to explore planets. In a nod to the fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel," the researchers named their patent-pending concept the "Breadcrumb-Style Dynamically Deployed Communication Network" paradigm, or DDCN. "If you remember the book, you know how Hansel and Gretel dropped breadcrumbs to make sure they'd find their way back," adds Fink. ”In our scenario, the 'breadcrumbs' are miniaturized sensors that piggyback on the rovers, which deploy the sensors as they traverse a cave or other subsurface environment”. The robots would monitor their environment and proceed on their own, but would be connected to each other via a wireless data connection, deploying communication nodes along the way like breadcrumbs. The system could even be used to explore the oceans of distant planets. In places that call for submersible robots, the system could consist of a lander, either floating on a lake, as might be the case on Titan, or sitting on the ice atop a subsurface ocean like on Europa – that is connected to the submarine. Having developed the rovers and the communication technology, Fink's group is now working on building the actual mechanism by which the rovers would deploy the communication nodes.