A trick inspired by Hansel and Gretel could help rovers explore other worlds

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In the classic fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel threw bread crumbs during a walk through a treacherous forest in order not to get lost. Rovers may one day use a similar trick to travel to other planets without losing their data.

As a rule, if the rover finally loses contact during the mission, all the information it has collected is lost. To avoid this, the researchers propose a multi-rover system in which a smaller rover connects to a larger “parent rover.” The smaller rover then ventured into any particularly uncharted territory, such as a cave or lava tubes, deploying sensors the size of an AirPods case like breadcrumbs.

The sensors could then communicate with each other over a wireless network and send any collected data back to the main rover, theoretical physicist Wolfgang Fink and his colleagues suggest Feb. 11 in Advances in space research . As a proof of concept, the team created a prototype of sensors that communicate via Wi-Fi.

It’s not that a smaller rover would follow the breadcrumbs the way it came. Instead, “we use [сенсори]so that the data finds its way from the cave to the mother rover,” says Fink of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The technology can also be useful here on Earth, especially after a natural disaster such as an earthquake. The rover can be sent with deployed sensors under debris where it is too dangerous for humans to perform search and rescue missions.

A breadcrumb-like communication network could allow researchers to “satisfy the essence of scientific research,” says Fink, by allowing rovers to overcome some of the limitations associated with difficult terrain. “To get to the real exciting science, you often have to go to exotic places, hard-to-reach places.”

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