Technology developed in this project will have a transformative impact on space exploration, and is directly relevant in supporting the key attributes of autonomy to support NASA missions, stated in the OCT roadmap for Robotics, Tele-Robotics and Autonomous Systems (TA04) as, "the ability for complex decision making, including autonomous mission execution and planning, the ability to self-adapt as the environment in which the system is operating changes, and the ability to understand system state and react accordingly." This work addresses two space technology grand challenges which aim to enable transformational space exploration and scientific discovery: all access mobility and surviving extreme space environments. Development of a biologically-inspired, robust, low-power, multi-component brain system able to perform self-localization and mapping will enable robots to autonomously navigate novel terrains without the need of GNSS. By including the ability to learn about an environment as it explores, robotic agents will be able to autonomously negotiate novel terrains and send relevant, intelligently preprocessed information back to a human controller. Lastly, incorporating high-level decision making and conflict resolution will allow the robot to decide between exploration of its environment and returning to home base for a battery recharge.
One of the fundamental challenges of modern robotics is to build autonomous systems that are increasingly able to explore their environment and act upon choices in an intelligent way. The simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) problem exemplifies one such challenge. Currently, industry and academic solutions of the SLAM problem rely on accuracy of expensive sensors that are highly sensitive to noise and the complexity of real-world environments. These solutions are suboptimal since they require expensive, precise, and power-hungry sensors. The technology proposed herein mimics an animal's ability to solve the SLAM problem with noisy sensors and without the need of GNSS. Applications of this new technology include guidance systems for: - Robots navigating in GNSS-denied environment, such as collapsed building in disaster areas (e.g., earthquakes, nuclear power plants); - Robots for surveillance and scouting of indoor environments, such as urban war zones; - Microrobots for medical diagnosis, and - Robots for deep-ocean exploration.