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NASA readies three AI robots to explore Moon on their own

The trio of autonomous rovers will elect a “leader” to hand out assignments in a mission to map out the lunar surface without human intervention.

They might be tiny – each the size of a carry-on bag – but their mission could have a big impact on the way humans explore space.

NASA wants to see if the three robots can cooperate with one another without direct input from mission controllers back on Earth while on the Moon.

The goal of a “teamwork-minded” experiment is to see if robots can boost the efficiency of future missions by operating autonomously, the space agency said.

Called the CADRE, short for Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration, the project will task the robots to map out the Moon’s Reiner Gamma region in 3D.

The four-wheeled rovers are expected to land on the Moon in 2024 as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative.

They will then find a sunbathing spot to charge up using their solar panels before electing a “leader” to distribute work assignments. While robots will seek a collective goal, each will figure out how best to safely complete each assigned task on their own.

“You only tell them the high-level goal, and they have to determine how to accomplish it,” said Jean-Pierre de la Croix, principal investigator of the CADRE project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“The only instruction is, for example, ‘Go explore this region,’ and the rovers figure out everything else: when they’ll do the driving, what path they’ll take, how they’ll maneuver around local hazards,” de la Croix said.

The experiment-packed mission will last a full lunar day, which roughly translates into about 14 Earth days. NASA expects it could help establish new ways to do science and support the astronauts.

“Our mission is to demonstrate that a network of mobile robots can cooperate to accomplish a task without human intervention – autonomously,” CADRE project manager Subha Comandur said.

“It could change how we do exploration in the future. The question for future missions will become: ‘How many rovers do we send, and what will they do together?’” Comandur said.

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