Semi-autonomous cooperative exploration of planetary surfaces including the installation of a logistic chain as well as consideration of the terrestrial applicability of individual aspects

Robotic systems that are able to work autonomously on alien planets or moons are equally well suited for applications on earth. Examples are the management of maritime resources, search and rescue, or medical rehabilitation. The goal of the project TransTerrA is to further develop the space technologies available at DFKI within a complex scenario and to make them available for terrestrial applications.

Duration: 01.05.2013 till 31.12.2017
Donee: German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence GmbH
Sponsor: Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action
German Aerospace Center e.V.
Grant number: This project is funded by the German Space Agency (DLR Agentur) with federal funds of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWi) in accordance with the parliamentary resolution of the German Parliament, grant no. 50 RA 1301
Application Field: Space Robotics
Underwater Robotics
SAR- & Security Robotics
Assistance- and Rehabilitation Systems
Related Projects: TransGo
Technology Readiness Levels of Intelligent Robotic Systems in Space and their Transferability to Other Domains (07.2012- 02.2013)
Reconfigurable Integrated Multi Robot Exploration System (09.2009- 12.2012)
Intelligent Mobility (04.2009- 06.2012)
Intelligent Man-Machine Interface - Adaptive Brain-reading for assistive robotics (05.2010- 04.2015)
Learning Intelligent Motions for Kinematically Complex Robots for Exploration in Space (05.2012- 04.2016)
Dual-arm exoskeleton (01.2011- 12.2013)
Localization and mapping in confined underwater environments (09.2009- 07.2012)
Related Robots: MoVe
Moon Vehicle
Machine Learning Accelerator Demonstrator
Autonomous Rough Terrain Excavator Robot
Advanced Security Guard V4
Exoskeleton active (CAPIO)
Capio Upper Body Exoskeleton for Teleoperation
Expandable Rover for Planetary Applications
Advanced Security Guard V3
Exoskeleton Passive (CAPIO)
Upper body Human-Machine-Interface (HMI) for tele-operation
Related Software: MARS
Machina Arte Robotum Simulans
Node Level Data Link Communication
An add-on for Blender allowing editing and exporting of robots for the MARS simulation
Signal Processing and Classification Environment written in Python

Project details

Schematic illustration of the space scenario including the installation of a logistic chain (Source: Jan Albiez, DFKI GmbH)
Detail of an envisioned exploration mission at the lunar south pole: The exploration rover SherpaTT drives up the central peak for deployment of a BaseCamp as communication relay (b1). On its way to the rim of the Amundsen crater (b7) several soil samples are taken. These are collected at rendevouz-points from the Shuttle Coyote III and transported to the return stage at the landing site. (Source: Florian Cordes, DFKI GmbH)

Scenario: a team of robots explores the lunar surface

Complex robotic missions attain an increasing importance for the exploration of our solar system.  Ever more sophisticated experiments, the retrieval of samples or even the preparation of manned missions to alien bodies such as the moon or Mars cannot be achieved by individual systems any more, but need to be distributed to several missions.  The scenario in TransTerrA demonstrates the (semi-) autonomous exploration of planetary surfaces using a cooperating robot team consisting of a rover and a shuttle. The shuttle‘s task is to supply the rover which requires the installation of a logistic chain, i.e. the setup of reliable channels of supply over several waypoints. Human operators on earth will be able to control the mission using novel human-machine interfaces.

In order to build up the logistic chain so-called base-camps will be used in order to bridge large distances between a lander and the rover. Depending on its task, which could be a depot for energy or soil samples, or a relay station for communication, a base-camp can be extended by functional modules. Base-camps, replaceable functional modules, rover and shuttle possess a compatible docking interface so that the shuttle as well as the rover can modify the base-camps using modules delivered to them. Additionally, the modules can be exchanged between shuttle and rover.

The rover is based on the hybrid wheel-step robot Sherpa, the shuttle is based on Asguard, a result of project iMoby. As part of the research agenda the technology readiness of Sherpa will be increased, and along with it the space readiness of individual subcomponents. The mission control center, being the interface between human operator and exploration robot, consists on one hand of an upper body exoskeleton as it was developed in project Capio for controlling the systems, and on the other hand of modern visualization tools such as 3-dimensional multi-projection screens and head-mounted displays (HMDs). The experiences from project IMMI will be used to optimize the control center technology considering psycho-physiological data such as EEG and eye tracking (see video on operator support by embedded Brain Reading as developed in IMMI here).

Technology transfer to terrestrial applications

The robotic technologies of all involved systems developed within the space exploration scenario, including their cooperation, the installation of a logistic chain, and a suitable human-machine interface, will be transferred into the terrestrial application domains search and rescue, management of maritime resources, and rehabilitation. This demonstrates the exchangeability and mutual applicability of technologies from space and terrestrial robotics. In each of the application domains an individual scenario will be defined, demonstrating the transferability of technologies and systems.


SherpaTT: Driving in natural Mars analogue terrain in the desert of Utah, US

SherpaTT driving in natural Mars analogue terrain in the desert of Utah, USA and demonstrating its ability to keep its body level during drives through rough terrain.

Coyote III: Demonstrates Robotic Search and Rescue Scenario

Coyote III - initially build for space exploration tasks, it has shown its multi purpose character in many different scenarios. The rover captivates with high mobility and flexibility, to cope all kinds of situations.

Other than space, Coyote III can also be deployed for search and rescue (SAR) tasks on Earth. Using the camera and laser scanner, the operator gets a clear overview of the surrounding and can safely operate the rover. With a modular system architecture, various sensor and payload modules can be attached to the rover. This allows to help the rescue teams in all kinds of situations and increase the safety of their work. Coyote 3 provides even the possibility to operate fully autonomous and explore extensive areas.

In addition to mapping and visual awareness, the detection and mapping of hazardous materials is an important part of SAR applications. To demonstrate this capabilities, a representative environmental sensor unit was designed and integrated into a modular payload item. The sensor module is equipped with different gas sensors as well as temperature and humidity sensors. 

The environment sensor package can detect gas contamination, and help to find gas leaks. This can warn the rescue forces about dangerous areas, for example with high sludge or carbonic oxide gas pollution. During its traverse, the rover automatically generates a surrounding map and highlights the detected gas concentration.


Coyote III: Assembly of Subsystems

The video presents the assembly of Coyote III featuring its dedicated  subsystems and their core properties. Coyote III is a micro rover with high mobility performance in unstructured terrains. Equipped with its own power source, on-board sensor suite and on-board computer it is able to perform exploration tasks autonomously. Moreover, the communication subsystem enables the rover to cooperate with other systems. Coyote III is equipped with two standardized electro-mechanical interfaces, allowing to dock additional payload elements, such as standardized payload items or a manipulator. Due to the lightweight and robust structural design of Coyote III, it is possible to apply several kilograms of additional payload to the rover. The modular design approach allows to adapt the rover structure according to specific payload requirements.

Field Trials Utah: Robot team simulates Mars mission in Utah

A barren, rocky desert landscape and not a single soul around – to come as close as possible to the inhospitable conditions on the Red Planet, scientists of the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) tested the cooperation of various robot systems in the desert of the American state of Utah from 24 October to 18 November 2016.

TransTerrA: Coyote III Crater Trials

Coyote III masters an artificial lunar crater wall with 45° inclination.

TransTerrA: The robot Coyote III in the snow

Watch Coyote III driving through deep snow within rough terrain

SherpaTT during outdoor runs

SherpaTT demonstrating its ability to keep ist body level during drives through rough terrain.

Capio Exoskeleton: Control via biosignals

Demonstration of the Capio exoskeleton control via biosignals: The intended movement of the human operator is detected by the biosignal data processing which triggers the execution of the targeted movement by the exoskeleton. By means of an eye tracker the desired interaction is detected (focusing on a virtual bottle) and by electroencephalographic signals (EEG), the intended movement and the performing limb are determined. Furthermore, by means of electromyographic signals (EMG), the intended movements are verified.

Intrinsic interactive reinforcement learning: Using error-related potentials

Thanks to human negative feedback, the robot learns from its own misconduct.

Picture Gallery



Active Exploitation of Redundancies in Reconfigurable Multi-Robot Systems
Thomas M. Roehr
In IEEE Transactions on Robotics, IEEE, volume n.n., pages 1-17, Jun/2021.


Embedded Multimodal Interfaces in Robotics: Applications, Future Trends, and Societal Implications
Elsa Andrea Kirchner, Stephen Fairclough, Frank Kirchner
Editors: S. Oviatt, B. Schuller, P. Cohen, D. Sonntag, G. Potamianos, A. Krueger
In The Handbook of Multimodal-Multisensor Interfaces, Morgan & Claypool Publishers, volume 3, chapter 13, pages 523-576, 2019. ISBN: e-book: 978-1-97000-173-0, hardcover: 978-1-97000-175-4, paperback: 978-1-97000-172-3, ePub: 978-1-97000-174-7.


Cognitive Work Protection - a new approach for occupational safety in human-machine interaction
Christian Neu, Elsa Andrea Kirchner, Su-Kyoung Kim, Marc Tabie, Christian Linn, Dirk Werth
Editors: Fred D. Davis, René Riedl, Jan vom Brocke, Pierre-Majorique Léger, Adriane B. Randolph
In Information Systems and Neuroscience NeuroIS Retreat 2018, Springer, pages 211-220, Nov/2018. ISBN: 978-3-030-01087-4.
Design and Field Testing of a Rover with an Actively Articulated Suspension System in a Mars Analog Terrain
Florian Cordes, Frank Kirchner, Ajish Babu
In Journal of Field Robotics, Wiley, volume 35, number 7, pages 1149-1181, Oct/2018.
Binary software packaging for the Robot Construction Kit
Thomas M. Roehr, Pierre Willenbrock
In Proceedings of the 14th International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation in Space, (iSAIRAS-2018), 04.6.-06.6.2018, Madrid, ESA, Jun/2018.
Modular Payload-Items for Payload-assembly and System Enhancement for Future Planetary Missions
Wiebke Brinkmann, Florian Cordes, Thomas M. Roehr, Leif Christensen, Tobias Stark, Roland Sonsalla, Roman Szczuka, Niklas Alexander Mulsow, Felix Bernhard, Daniel Kuehn
In Proceedings of the 2018 IEEE Aerospace Conference, 03.3.-10.3.2018, Big Sky, Montana, IEEE, Mar/2018.
Design and evaluation of an end-effector for a reconfigurable multi-robot system for future planetary missions
Wiebke Brinkmann, Thomas M. Roehr, Sankaranarayanan Natarajan, Florian Cordes, Roland Sonsalla, Roman Szczuka, Sebastian Bartsch, Frank Kirchner
In Proceedings of the 2018 IEEE Aerospace Conference, 03.3.-10.3.2018, Big Sky, Montana, IEEE, pages 1-10, Mar/2018.
Multi-tasking and Choice of Training Data Influencing Parietal ERP Expression and Single-trial Detection - Relevance for Neuroscience and Clinical Applications
Elsa Andrea Kirchner, Su-Kyoung Kim
Editors: Mikhail Lebedev
In Frontiers in Neuroscience, n.a., volume 12, pages n.a., Mar/2018.
Design and Experimental Evaluation of a Hybrid Wheeled-Leg Exploration Rover in the Context of Multi-Robot Systems
Florian Cordes
Bremen, Germany, 2018. University of Bremen.


Intrinsic interactive reinforcement learning - Using error-related potentials for real world human-robot interaction
Su-Kyoung Kim, Elsa Andrea Kirchner, Arne Stefes, Frank Kirchner
In Scientific Reports, Nature, volume 7: 17562, pages n.a., Dec/2017.
Adaptive multimodal biosignal control for exoskeleton supported stroke rehabilitation
Anett Seeland, Marc Tabie, Su-Kyoung Kim, Frank Kirchner, Elsa Andrea Kirchner
In IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, (SMC-2017), 05.10.-08.10.2017, Banff, IEEE, Oct/2017.
Combining Cameras, Magnetometers and Machine-Learning into a Close-Range Localization System for Docking and Homing
Marc Hildebrandt, Leif Christensen, Frank Kirchner
In MTS/IEEE Oceans 2017 Anchorage, (OCEANS-2017), 18.9.-21.9.2017, Anchorage, Alaska, IEEE, Sep/2017.
Field Testing of a Cooperative Multi-Robot Sample Return Mission in Mars Analogue Environment
Roland Sonsalla, Florian Cordes, Leif Christensen, Thomas M. Roehr, Tobias Stark, Steffen Planthaber, Michael Maurus, Martin Mallwitz, Elsa A. Kirchner
In Proceedings of the 14th Symposium on Advanced Space Technologies in Robotics and Automation (ASTRA 20017), (ASTRA-2017), 20.6.-22.6.2017, Leiden, ESA, Jun/2017. ESA/ESTEC.
AUVx - A Novel Miniaturized Autonomous Underwater Vehicle
Editors: Hendrik Hanff, Philipp Kloss, Bilal Wehbe, Peter Kampmann, Sven Kroffke, Aljoscha Sander, Miguel Bande Firvida, Maria von Einem, Jan Frederik Bode, Frank Kirchner
(OCEANS-17), 19.6.-22.6.2017, Aberdeen, o.A., Jun/2017. IEEE.
Bremer Roboter-Team auf Marsmission in der Wüste Utahs
Roland Sonsalla, Florian Cordes, Leif Christensen, Steffen Planthaber, Michael Maurus, Thomas M. Roehr, Tobias Stark, Andrea Fink
In Luft- und Raumfahrt, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Luft- und Raumfahrt - Lilienthal-Oberth e.V. (DGLR), volume Jahrgang 38, number 1/2017, pages 36-39, Jan/2017.
Controlling a Semi-Autonomous Robot Team From a Virtual Environment
Steffen Planthaber, Michael Maurus, Bertold Bongardt, Martin Mallwitz, Luis Manuel Vaca Benitez, Leif Christensen, Florian Cordes, Roland Sonsalla, Tobias Stark, Thomas M. Roehr
In Proceedings of the HRI conference, (HRI), 06.3.-09.3.2017, Vienna, ACM/IEEE, 2017.
DFKI-X: A Novel, Compact and Highly Integrated Robotics Joint for Space Applications
Roland Sonsalla, Hendrik Hanff, Patrick Schöberl, Tobias Stark, Niklas Alexander Mulsow
In Proceedings of the 17th European Space Mechanisms and Tribology Symposium, (ESMATS-2017), 20.9.-22.9.2017, Hatfield, ESMATS, 2017. ISBN: 978-90-827435-0-0.


An intelligent man-machine interface - multi-robot control adapted for task engagement based on single-trial detectability of P300
Elsa Andrea Kirchner, Su-Kyoung Kim, Hendrik Wöhrle, Marc Tabie, Michael Maurus, Frank Kirchner
In Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Frontiers, volume 10, pages 291, Jun/2016.
SherpaTT: A Versatile Hybrid Wheeled-Leg Rover
Florian Cordes, Ajish Babu
In Proceedings of the 13th International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation In Space, (iSAIRAS-16), 20.6.-23.6.2016, Beijing, n.n., Jun/2016.
Handling few training data: classifier transfer between different types of error-related potentials
Su-Kyoung Kim, Elsa Andrea Kirchner
In IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems & Rehabilitation Engineering, IEEE, volume 24, number 3, pages 320-332, Mar/2016.
Rekonfigurierbare Datenflussarchitekturen in der Robotik - Zukünftige robotische Systeme benötigen dezentrale und verteilte Rechenarchitekturen für Intelligenz und Autonomie
Hendrik Wöhrle, Frank Kirchner
In Industrie 4.0 Management, GITO Verlag, volume 2, number 4, pages 25-28, Mar/2016.
Embedded Brain Reading - Sichere und intuitive Mensch-Maschine-Interaktion
Elsa Andrea Kirchner, Rolf Drechsler
In Industrie 4.0 Management, Gito mbH Verlag für Industrielle Informationstechnik und Organisation, volume 4, number 2/2016, pages 37-40, Mar/2016.


Distortion-Robust Distributed Magnetometer for Underwater Pose Estimation in Confined UUVs
Leif Christensen, Christopher Gaudig, Frank Kirchner
In Proceedings of MTS IEEE OCEANS '15, (OCEANS-15), 19.10.-22.10.2015, Washington, DC, IEEE, pages 1-8, Oct/2015.
Coyote III: Highly Mobile and Modular Micro Rover for Cooperative Tasks
Roland Sonsalla
series DFKI Documents, volume 15-02, pages 2, Jun/2015. DFKI GmbH.
Coyote III: Development of a Modular and highly Mobile Micro Rover
Roland Sonsalla, Joel Bessekon, Frank Kirchner
In Proceedings of the 13th Symposium on Advanced Space Technologies in Robotics and Automation (ASTRA-2015), (ASTRA-2015), Noordwijk, The Netherlands, ESA, May/2015. ESA.
Choice of training data for classifier transfer in error related potentials based on signal characteristics
Su-Kyoung Kim, Elsa Andrea Kirchner
In Proceedings of the 7th International IEEE EMBS Conference on Neural Engineering, (NER-2015), 22.4.-24.4.2015, Montpellier, IEEE, pages 102-105, Apr/2015.
The CAPIO Active Upper Body Exoskeleton and its Application for Teleoperation
Martin Mallwitz, Niels Will, Johannes Teiwes, Elsa Andrea Kirchner
In Proceedings of the 13th Symposium on Advanced Space Technologies in Robotics and Automation, (ASTRA-2015), ESA, 2015.
A Robust Electro-Mechanical Interface for Cooperating Heterogeneous Multi-Robot Teams
Wiebke Wenzel, Florian Cordes, Frank Kirchner
In IROS 2015 Proceedings, (IROS-2015), 28.9.-02.10.2015, Hamburg, IROS, pages 1732-1737, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4799-9994-1.
Equipping industrial deep-sea manipulators with a sense of touch
Peter Kampmann, Timo Stoffregen, Frank Kirchner
In Proceedings of the Oceans'15 MTS/IEEE Washington Conference & Exhibition, At Washington D.C., (OCEANS-15), 19.10.-22.10.2015, Washington D.C., MTS/IEEE, 2015.
Online Adaptation of a Man-Machine Interface with Respect to Task Engagement and Task Load
Elsa Andrea Kirchner, Su-Kyoung Kim, Hendrik Wöhrle, Marc Tabie, Johannes Teiwes, Frank Kirchner
In Proceedings of the 11. Berliner Werkstatt Mensch-Maschine-Systeme (BWMMS), 2015, (BWMMS), 07.10.-09.10.2015, Berlin, BWMMS, 2015.


Correction of Robot Behavior based on Brain State Analysis
Su-Kyoung Kim
series DFKI Documents, volume 14-07, pages 19, Nov/2014. DFKI GmbH, Universität Bremen.
Static forces weighted Jacobian motion models for improved Odometry
Javier Hidalgo Carrió, Ajish Babu, Frank Kirchner
In Proceedings of IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, (IROS-2014), 14.9.-18.9.2014, Chicago, IEEE, Sep/2014.
Sherpa in TransTerrA: SherpaTT
Florian Cordes
In Proceedings of the RIC Project Day Workgroups ‘Electronic Design’ and ‘Mechatronic Design’, 24.7.2014, Bremen, Selbstverlag, series DFKI Documents, volume 14-05, Jul/2014. DFKI Robotics Innovation Center Bremen. DFKI GmbH. ISBN: ISSN 0946-0098.
Towards safe autonomy in space exploration using reconfigurable multi-robot systems
Thomas M. Roehr, Ronny Hartanto
In Proceedings of the International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation in Space (i-SAIRAS 2014), (iSAIRAS-2014), 17.6.-19.6.2014, Montreal, o.A., Jun/2014.
An Active Suspension System for a Planetary Rover
Florian Cordes, Christian Oekermann, Ajish Babu, Daniel Kuehn, Tobias Stark, Frank Kirchner
In Proceedings of the International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation in Space (i-SAIRAS 2014), (iSAIRAS-2014), 17.6.-19.6.2014, Montreal, o.A., Jun/2014.
Towards a Heterogeneous Modular Robotic Team in a Logistic Chain for Extraterrestrial Exploration
Roland Sonsalla, Florian Cordes, Leif Christensen, Steffen Planthaber, Jan Albiez, Ingo Scholz, Frank Kirchner
In Proceedings of the International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation in Space (i-SAIRAS 2014), (iSAIRAS-2014), 17.6.-19.6.2014, Montreal, o.A., Jun/2014.
The Artemis Rover as an Example for Model Based Engineering in Space Robotics
Jakob Schwendner, Thomas M. Roehr, Stefan Haase, Malte Wirkus, Marc Manz, Sascha Arnold, Janosch Machowinski
In Workshop Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation 2014, (ICRA-2014), 31.5.-07.6.2014, Hong Kong, IEEE, May/2014.

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