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The University of Luxembourg’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) has entered a new partnership with FIRIS SA, a Luxembourgish company specialised in robotic-assisted 3D mapping services. The partnership between SnT’s Space Robotics (SpaceR) research group and FIRIS SA aims at exploring multi-robot technology for underground mine inspections on Earth. Ultimately, this robotic approach could one day be applied to inspecting lava tubes on the Moon.

Underground mines can extend over great distances. To stabilise them, the galleries are supported by pillars made out of various materials. However, erosion can consume these supports over time. In addition, many mines are no longer in use, nor are they adequately maintained. As there is always the danger of the mine collapsing, robot inspections represent a safe solution to maintain the galleries and reduce risks for humans.

“In this partnership with FIRIS SA, we will explore using multiple robots at the same time to conduct mine inspections. This reduces time and increases the precision of inspection,” explained Prof. Miguel Angel Olivares-Mendez, head of the SpaceR research group and principal investigator of the project. “Our aim is to solve the challenges of a multi-robot system. For example, each robot creates a map on its own. How can we combine these maps and share them with the user? Another aspect we plan to explore is the development of a solution that requires only one single operator to control these robots.”

Such a multi-robot solution would not only represent a huge step for mine inspections on Earth. In the future, the very same technology can be used to inspect lava tubes on the Moon –  underground tunnels that formed from the eruption of lava flows. These are expected to play a central role in the sustainable presence of humans on the Moon, as they can provide astronauts withshelter from radiations.

“We are excited to be working with FIRIS SA on this project. FIRIS SA has already gained experience with mine inspections with a single robot, and knows the challenges of working with robots in this environment. They use the same robots, Leo rovers, that we are also working with in the LunaLab. This makes them the perfect partner to tackle the challenges of mine inspections with a multi-robot system,” said Prof. Olivares-Mendez.

“We believe that we can best develop a multi-robot system through collaboration with SnT. In this collaboration, we bring together state-of-the-art knowledge of robot navigation. SnT contributes its experience from various projects in working with robots’ fleets. In extreme environments such as mines, the autonomy of the robots is essential, while a single operator should control the fleet. Joining forces with SnT will foster innovation in this area,” concluded Nicolas Vandamme, CEO and Co-Founder of FIRIS SA.