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For the First Time in 40 Years, a Robot Is Wandering the Moon

China's Jade Rabbit rover is alive and well on the surface of the Moon

2 min read
For the First Time in 40 Years, a Robot Is Wandering the Moon

The last rover to be operational on the Moon was the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2, in January of 1973. Since then, we humans have focused most of our robotic exploration efforts on more, well, exotic locations, like Venus and Mars. This should by no means be taken to imply that we know everything there is to know about the Moon, or that it's all boring and no fun up there. Realistically, it could be the closest spot for long-term habitation, but we still have a lot more to learn, so it's about time that we went back there to do some exploring. And the "we," in this case, is China.

At 8:11 a.m. EST on Dec. 14, China's "Jade Rabbit" or ("Yutu") rover made a soft touchdown on the Moon, aboard the Chang'e 3 lander. The rover deployed about seven hours later, and the lander snapped this picture of it on the surface.

We don't know a whole heck of a lot about China's rover, because China hasn't made all that much public. It's slightly smaller than Opportunity (which is still driving around on Mars, incidentally), and has a mass of about 120 kilos, with 20 kilos of payload. That payload consists of stereo panoramic cameras, spectrometers, and ground-penetrating radar. It has some autonomous navigation capability, and may be able to send live video back to Earth, which would be pretty cool.

We're hoping to get a lot more information (and data) back from Jade Rabbit over the next few weeks, and the mission itself is scheduled to last a minimum of three months. In 2015, China plans to send a second rover to the Moon, and after that, they'll try and get a robotic drilling rig to dig up a sample and send it back to Earth.

Via [ LA Times ]

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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