Why send just one robot into space when you could send two robots into space instead? We did it with Spirit and Opportunity, and that
worked out great
is mostly still working out great. It would have been working out even better, though, if we'd let Spirit and Oppy get each other's backs and team up to do some extra exploring. That's the idea that DFKI Bremen has been testing with its pair of space robots: a four wheeled rover named SHERPA and a hexapod named CREX.
Here's an overview animation that should give you a good idea of how these two robots are intended to work together, with CREX stowed safely away under SHERPA's belly until it's ready to come out and play. The project as a whole is called RIMRES, for Reconfigurable Integrated Multi Robot Exploration System:
So that's a kinda awesome, but what's really awesome is how much of this system is already implemented. Here's SHERPA deploying CREX with its manipulator:
As the concept video shows, the idea here is that whenever SHERPA finds an especially exciting piece of geology (like a cliff or a crater), it can send CREX and all six of its legs down to investigate. JPL has been working on something similar with its Axel rover, specifically designed for crater entry.
Speaking of exciting pieces of geology, the reason that the whole Spirit and Opportunity thing is only mostly working out great is because Spirit got stuck in a bad patch of sand and couldn't get out. While JPL tried a bunch of different techniques to free the rover, an especially clever little kid (seven years old, name of Julian) sent in this idea:
Unfortunately, Spirit's arm wasn't strong enough to lift it, but DFKI isn't having any of that with SHERPA. Check it out:
The SHERPA rover, for the record, weighs 200kg.
The first place the RAMIRES robots are destined for is likely going to be the Moon, where CREX will go spelunking down into deep lunar pole craters and caves looking for stashes of ice and other volatiles. Here's one more video of CREX being all hexapod-y, and you can find lots more info (including more vids) at the links below.
[ DFKI RIMRES ]
[ SHERPA ]
[ CREX ]
[ DFKI @ YouTube ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.