A prototype solar-powered robot with the potential to be self-sufficient for extended periods of time will be tested in the Canadian Arctic by Carnegie Mellon University researchers in July.
The researchers will test a concept called Sun-Synchronous Navigation that may enable autonomous robots to obtain continuous solar power for long-term exploration of distant planets.
Sun-Synchronous Navigation is a technique that involves tracking the sun while exploring terrain. It’s accomplished by travelling opposite to planetary rotation and in synchrony with the sun.
The robot, a concept vehicle named Hyperion, is said to represent the latest in a series of terrestrial test-beds for planetary explorers the institute has developed for NASA.
Hyperion, which can operate on 200 watts of power, is two meters long, two meters wide and almost three meters tall with a near vertically mounted solar panel measuring 3.5 square meters to catch the low-angle sunlight of the polar-regions.
Several weeks of experiments will be conducted to measure the robot’s performance and test computer algorithms, building up to integrated experiments that will take place over 24-hour periods of continuous sunlight.
The robot must reason about its position and orientation with respect to the sun while it explores its surroundings. It navigates to capture enough sunlight to power itself while travelling through rough terrain and trying to reach scientific objectives.
Researchers believe that at the right latitude and speed, robotic explorers should get enough sunlight to maintain continuous operation.
For some missions, by following the dawn, these rovers may also be able to regulate their temperatures by staying in the transition region between frigid night and scorching daytime temperatures.