One small step for robot kind.

Moon Walk

NASA is teaching a robot dog how to walk on the Moon.

With little fanfare, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers — including engineers, planetary scientists, and cognitive scientists — let loose a quadruped robot called Spirit at an altitude of 6,000 feet on the snowy and rocky hills of Oregon's Mount Hood.

The project called Legged Autonomous Surface Science in Analog Environments (LASSIE) is designed to teach the robot to adapt to its varying environment in real-time, with the goal of eventually having it traverse the surface of the Moon and perhaps even other worlds in our solar system.

"A legged robot needs to be able to detect what is happening when it interacts with the ground underneath, and rapidly adjust its locomotion strategies accordingly," said University of Southern California assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Feifei Qian in a statement.

Paw Prints in the Sand

The team received a two-year $2 million grant from NASA to help the agency deliver robots to the surface of the Moon. Once there, the idea is to have these robots teach each other how to adapt to the local environment, for instance by warning others of nearby hazards.

"They would sense how the ground conditions are," Qian said, "and then exchange that information with one another, and collectively form a map of locomotion risk estimation."

"The team of robots can then use this traversal risk map to inform their planetary explorations: 'There is an extremely soft sand patch that might be high-risk for wheeled rovers. Come over here, this might be a safer area,'" she added.

The robots could even help each other to get out of a bind by hoisting another robot out of a pit or even linking together to form a bridge.

The researchers are also looking far beyond simple, four-legged robot dogs, by applying the same research to wheeled robots and ones with six legs.

Meanwhile, Spirit has already braved a number of different environments, from California beaches to the ice-packed hills of Mount Hood.

The LASSIE team is now looking to let it off the leash at the White Sands National Park in New Mexico — and one small step closer to taking one giant leap for mankind.

More on robot dogs: Robot Dog Shot Three Times During Raid

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