New realistic computer model will help robot collect moon dust

Small Funnel Flow — Similar experiments, both simulated and real, were set up to see if the virtual regolith behaved realistically. This test looked at how small (16 g) material samples passed through narrow funnels. Credit: Joe Luca

A new computer model simulates lunar dust so well that it could lead to smooth and safe lunar robot teleoperation. Developed by researchers at the University of Bristol and based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, the device could be used to train astronauts ahead of lunar missions.

Their research has been published in the journal Frontiers in Space Technologies.

Working with its industry partner Thales Elenia Space in the UK, which has a particular interest in doing the work. of the the team investigated a virtual version of regolith, another name for moon dust.

Lunar regolith is of particular interest for future lunar exploration missions planned over the next decade. From this, scientists can potentially extract valuable resources such as oxygen, or to support a long-term presence on the Moon.

To collect regolith, remotely operated robots emerge as a practical choice due to the lower risks and costs compared to human spaceflight. However, robots operating over these large distances introduce large delays into the system, making them difficult to control.

Now that the team knows it behaves like virtual reality, they can use it to pilot robots on the moon. This approach allows operators to control the robot without any delay, providing a smoother and more efficient experience.

Regolith Sim Demo Video—The model can be adjusted to represent different materials: ball bearings, dry sand, and cohesive regolith simulants, under Earth or Moon gravity. The viscosity of the virtual regolith allows it to flow more slowly through the funnels. Credit: Joe Luca

Lead author Joe Luca, based at Bristol’s School of Engineering Mathematics and Technology, explained, “Think of it like a realistic video game set on the moon – we want to make sure that the virtual version of the moon dust is exactly the same. behave like the real thing, so that if we’re using it to control a robot on the moon, it will behave as we expect it to. The model is accurate, scalable, and lightweight, so it can be could be used to support lunar exploration missions.”

Following this study Previous work of the team, which found that expert robot operators wanted to train on their systems with progressively increasing risk and realism. This means starting with a simulation and using physical mockups, before using the real system. An accurate simulation model is crucial for training and increasing operator confidence in the system.

Although some particularly accurate models of lunar dust have been developed before, they are so detailed that they require too much computational time, making them too slow for a robot to easily control. are Researchers at the DLR (German Aerospace Center) tackled this challenge by creating a virtual model of the regolith that simulates its density, viscosity and friction, as well as the Moon’s gravity. Their model is of interest to the space industry because it is light on computational resources, and therefore can be run in real time. However, it works best with small amounts of moon dust.

New realistic computer model will help robot collect moon dust

Large funnel setup—Simulations were scaled down to test larger volumes of regolith. This example poured 0.5 kg of regolith through a wide funnel, compared to the physical equivalent. Credit: Joe Luca

The Bristol team’s goal was first to extend the model so that it could handle more regolith, while remaining light enough to run in real time, and then to validate it experimentally.

Luca added, “Our main focus during this project was to enhance the user experience for the operators of these systems – how can we make their work easier? We used the original virtual regolith model developed by DLR. started, and modified it to make it more scalable. Then, we conducted a series of experiments—half in a simulated environment, half in the real world—to measure whether virtual Dust behaved like its real-world counterpart.”

Because this model of regolith promises to be accurate, scalable, and light enough to be used in real time, the team will next investigate whether it can be used when using robots to collect regolith.

They also plan to investigate whether a similar system could be developed to simulate Martian soil, which could be beneficial for future research missions, or to help scientists navigate the much-anticipated Martian surface. Can train material handling from sample return missions.

More information:
Confirmation of Virtual Lunar Regolith Simulant, Frontiers in Space Technologies (2024).

Reference: New Realistic Computer Model Will Help Robots Collect Moon Dust (2024, February 22) Retrieved February 22, 2024 from https://phys.org/news/2024-02-realistic-robots-moon.html has been

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