Written by Alyssa Walker

University researchers and Airbus have completed testing a Martian robot that will make its own decisions on the red planet.

The rover will use AI to determine where to go, how to get there, and how to manage its own resources. It can shut down certain functions to save energy.

This new autonomous system was tested at the end of 2018 on a four-wheel rover called Sherpa in the Sahara Desert in Morocco.

The researchers selected the location for its similarity to the Mars surface -- red, rocky terrain. During testing, the robot traveled over 1.4 kilometers without human interaction.

According to the The Daily Telegraph, Catherine Mealing-Jones, director of growth at the UK Space Agency, said, "Mars is a very difficult planet to land safely on, so it's essential to maximize the discoveries from each successful touchdown. New autonomous robot technology like this will help to further unlock Mars's mysteries and I'm delighted that the UK is a key player." 

The new technology, called ERGO, also relied on the help of Wiltshire software company SCISYS. According to the UK government website, the ERGO Autonomy framework allows the rover to make decisions without human intervention. 

The King's College researchers also tested the robot with additional software called INFUSE, which combines data from various sensors and sources to create useful information, like maps and charts, and functions on the idea of data fusion.

They further explained that during the month-long testing, companies and universities from the UK including Airbus Defence & Space, Thales Alenia Space, Scisys, King’s College London, the University of Strathclyde, and GMV-UK participated.

The research team tested many new technologies, including INFUSE's data fusion systems, a plug-and-play sensor suite and an open-source operating system for robotic control.


Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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