Legged Locomotion for Desert Research

Climate change and human activities have accelerated desertification, reducing agricultural productivity and threatening human health. In order to effectively control and prevent such situations, a better understanding of the desert environment and sand transport dynamics is required.

Mobile, ground-based robotic platforms like RHex can provide datasets with greater spatio-temporal resolution than existing methods, which mostly consist of fixed instrumentation. An intelligent, mobile robot can also treat informative scientific data as a resource, applying concepts from game theory to explore an environment for high-resource areas and “exploiting” the data it collects in real time to differentiate between competing models of sand transport dynamics. The desert environment offers a challenge for locomotion as well, as the loose sand can yield and flow upon the contact of robot legs, resulting in poor mobility.

We have taken RHex on desert research missions with aeolian scientists in White Sands National Monument (New Mexico), the Jornada Experimental Range (New Mexico), Little Dumont Dunes (California), Oceano Dunes (California), and the Tengger desert (Ningxia province, China). We expect that in the near future RHex will operate more autonomously in harsh environments and help aeolian scientists solve more challenging problems.



Effective locomotion on sand, granular media, soft substrates

Sponsor: NSF

Group: Sonia Roberts




Use mobile ground based robots to collect transformative field dataset to assist the development of desert research

Sponsor: NSF

Group: Feifei Qian





This work was supported in part by the US National Science Foundation under an INSPIRE award, CISE NRI # 1514882