But the breakthrough finally came a few months later. The scientists split up into design teams to take on specific subprojects, and every design team had members from both disciplines. Once they were forced to work together, a real spirit of collaboration evolved. To good effect: four space exploration systems and six deep-sea robots were developed over the five years of the project. Alongside TRAMPER, there is an underwater glider and an autonomous rover for missions on other planets.
Robot mission to Mount Etna
In order to test the rover, a team travelled to Mount Etna in June 2017. The barren, black and hostile volcanic landscape is similar to the surface of the moon – an ideal testing ground for the robots. A total of 50 ROBEX staff with their equipment established a base at an altitude of 2,600 metres to thoroughly test a lander and two rovers for a week. “The trip was a great success, as was the entire project. Overall, both disciplines have benefited from the collaboration,” Wilde concludes. “Deploying autonomous robots in deep-sea exploration is entirely new; until now, they have been remotely controlled by cable. Space research has been able to learn from the shorter project cycles in deep-sea research.”
Surviving highs and lows
From an altitude of 2,600 metres to a depth of 2,500 metres – the project is an adventure for Wilde, too. After the mission to Mount Etna in June, she will be off to the Arctic in August aboard the Polarstern. “I’ve never been so far away from civilisation,” she admits with a laugh. “I hope it all goes well.” She will be writing a blog while on board and will be eagerly waiting for TRAMPER to surface. Her love of robots is not confined to this diver: her favourites also include an elegant underwater glider developed by the Center for Marine Environmental Sciences (MARUM), which is capable of scanning vast areas of ocean with its sensors.
Important contribution from Bremen
Wilde works in Bremerhaven – the ideal location for this kind of interdisciplinary project, as many partners on the ROBEX project are based in the local area. These include the AWI, the MARUM, the DLR, the University of Bremen, Jacobs University, Airbus and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). “Bremen brings space research and deep-sea exploration together, which is a real plus for the city,” says Wilde.
The future of her team has already been settled: once ROBEX has been completed, the next project, ARCHES, will further develop selected technologies. By then, TRAMPER will also be out on another year-long mission under the ice. If all goes well, it will have company: on board the Polarstern is a second crawler called NOMAD, which will embark on its first underwater excursions around Spitsbergen. It will one day autonomously explore the oceans like its older brother.
For further information about the north German maritime cluster, please contact Andreas Born, innovations manager for the north German maritime cluster and Industry 4.0, on +49 (0)421 960 0316 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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