The Robots of Titan

An army of robot explorers that are capable of self-command and situation evaluation, and which remain in constant contact with each other to allow for greater flexibility of action, has been envisaged as the future of space exploration by the director of Caltech’s Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory, Professor Wolfgang Fink.

The concept of “tier-scalable reconnaissance” involves orbiters, robotic airships and expendable ground-level robots coordinating with each other to investigate the landscapes of planetary bodies such as the moons of Saturn in a more flexible and effective way than current paradigms allow. “It’s sort of like commanding a small army of robots operating in space, in the air and on the ground simultaneously,” he said.

In this mission scenario, an orbiter would circle Titan with a global view of the moon, with an air balloon or airship floating overhead to provide a birds-eye view of mountain ranges, lakes and canyons. On the ground, a rover or lake lander would explore the moon’s nooks and crannies. The orbiter would “speak” directly to the air balloon and command it to fly over a certain region for a closer look. This aerial balloon would be in contact with several small rovers on the ground and command them to move to areas identified from overhead.

“One day an entire fleet of robots will be autonomously commanded at once. This armada of robots will be our eyes, ears, arms and legs in space, in the air, and on the ground, capable of responding to their environment without us, to explore and embrace the unknown,” he added.

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