Space-rugged robot put to volcano test

Scarab to prove it can collect samples and data in extreme terrain and darkness with little communication.

Scarab, a robot developed by Carnegie Mellon University with support from NASA, is about to be tested at Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano to prove its fitness for the extreme conditions of space.

The robot was developed by the Lunar Rover Initiative, a group of scientists from the Field Robotics Center at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute. The test mission, intended to mimic a lunar rover mission, will have Scarab climb, drill, extract, and analyze samples, CMU announced Tuesday.

CMU's Scarab robot will set out to prove itself on Mauna Kea in Hawaii this November. Carnegie Mellon University

The dormant volcano and Hawaii's highest mountain, Mauna Kea is best known for its elite observatory of astronomical telescopes. But on this mission, scientists will be looking within instead of out at the universe.

The 400-kilogram (880-pound) robot has a suspension system that allows it to climb or drive on steep inclines of sand and rock. Scarab's November 1-13 mission will take place about two-thirds of the way up to Mauna Kea's peak at an elevation of 9,000 feet. The robot will take samples from the dormant volcano.

One of Scarab's innovative tools specifically being tested during the November mission is a drill from Norcat (Northern Centre for Advanced Technology) and a chemical analysis device from NASA.

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Scarab will use the Norcat drill to cut one-meter square cores (also known as regoliths) and transfer those cores to another onboard device for chopping into smaller samples.

Scarab will then place the core samples into its Resolve (Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction), a chamber designed by NASA. The Resolve will heat the regolith samples to 900 degrees Celsius for the purpose of identifying and quantifying individual particles and chemicals.

The Lunar Rover Initiative has been working for about a decade on developing a robot for space that can excel in "extreme temperatures, perpetual darkness, and intermittent communications." Scarab and other roving robots were showcased in May at the Field Robotics Center at CMU's Robotics Institute.

The Scarab is just one in a series of space traveling robots being developed for use in perpetual darkness and temperatures of "minus 385 degrees Fahrenheit," according to CMU.

About the author

In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.

 

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