Carnegie Mellon University loves robots and, more than that, a challenge: How do you get at possible minerals around the Moon's crater-studded south pole where there's no light for energy, or to see what you're doing? The CMU team's solution is the Scarab, a fully autonomous prospector 'bot, that'll carry out its work using laser scanners to navigate the harsh terrain and a radioactive power source to keep itself going.
It needs to be able to core through a meter of possibly hard, icy soil to get at the pockets of hydrogen concentrations for study — and its wheels are the key. The dynamic platform allows the Scarab to move over slopes and jagged landforms, and acts as a stabilizer when the 'bot goes belly-down to drill. The Scarab will move along slowly, as its radioactive isotope power source only produces about 100 watts — or the power of your average light bulb — to keep the robotic rover moving and thinking. The good news? That source also lasts about 10 years, so it'll have plenty of time to do what it needs to do.
The Scarab is about to undergo field testing at a volcanic range in Hawaii to see if it's up to the task of exploring dark lunar craters. If it does well, it may win a golden ticket from NASA to head to the moon and start its studies. Click Continue for a snippet from the Discovery Channel detailing CMU's Scarab autonomous prospector.