U036786J Yeo Kelly
Following the successful launch of robot on the surface of Mars, many new robots have been designed for planetary exploration. One of which is volcanic exploration, because of the strong terrain similarities and due to the high danger volcanic activities pose to human.
ROBOVOLC is a mobile robot built for volcanic exploration. This project is a partnership between 2 Universities in Italy and U.K., 2 industrial and 2 research organizations.
Surfaces on which ROBOVOLC moves are very rough and disconnected especially those that occur close to or inside volcanic craters. Therefore the robot needs sophisticated assembly to move safely up the steep gradient and unstable surfaces. It is built with 6wheels, equipped with semi-active joints and the weight (<200Kg) and dimension (1.7m x 1.2m x 0.8m) of the system were carefully chosen to allow the system to be transported easily to the proximity of a volcanic crater. ROBOVOLC operates on hybrid Internal Combustion (IC) engine generator in combination with the batteries, as a back up and recharge system.
There are 2 navigation methods: autonomous or semi-autonomous:
Autonomous mode models the cognitive processes and is used when the location to explore is known or when tele-operation is not available. Hence path-planning will move the automated robot to a specific position in the volcanic area and perform the tasks required.
On the other hand, when unexplored region is being investigated, an operator will tele-operate the robot from a safe distance via the use of a high power wireless LAN interface video link. Then making use of the 4 cameras installed on each side of the rover and a 5 degree of freedom manipulator, it is able to observe the volcanic site and collect samples of rocks and gases, as well as, drop and pick up instruments.
When navigating, the current position of the robot must be determined via localization; its surroundings must be sensed and mapped; and finally decisions must be made as to how best to proceed.
Localization is done mainly by using a DGPS (Ashtec model Z-Xtreme) algorithm, which is a sensor system. Then with the exact location of the robot known, navigation and reconstruction of the terrain morphology can be carried out.
In this way, researchers can learn and better understand the on-going activities at the volcanic site and help predict and prevent unnecessary casualties.