Drone Maps Underground Caves by Deliberately Bumping Into Walls

CC BY-SA 3.0. ESA, Natalino Russo

In a couple of decades when astronauts finally make to Mars, there will be an unlimited amount of jobs to do. From setting up some type of livable space to doing some broad and very detailed explorations, the astronauts will need an array of technologies to help them with their tasks.

We know that 3D printers will definitely be onboard and now it's very likely that some lightweight but tough drones will be too. The European Space Agency (ESA) has been using Flyability drones to map underground caverns with the ultimate goal being to prove how these flying robots can navigate and map spaces that are too dangerous for humans, like inhospitable environments on other planets.

Caves, because of the lack of sunlight, the cramped spaces and reliance on equipment for safety, mimic the environments astronauts may encounter on other planets. The ESA has been using the drone to explore the La Cucchiara caves near Sciacca, Sicily and hopes to get astronauts involved in more caving expeditions.

“We now want astronauts to take part in existing scientific caving and geological expeditions – scientific exploration does not get more real than this," said ESA training course designer Loredana Bessone.

The drone for its part in the training was deliberately bumped into walls to map the tight spaces. The drone's thermal camera led it around the cave, as it created a map of all of the cave's features including an area with water was that was unreachable by humans.

The team involved sees how these cave explorations can not only help scientists with the understanding of these underground environments but how they will one day be used to explore lava tubes or other tight spaces on Mars.