Swarms of robots could dig underground cities on Mars

The idea stems from a grant opportunity posted by the European Space Agency. Students at the Robotic Building lab (RB) at TU Delft, led by Dr. Henriette Bier, were enthusiastic to participate in the challenge that focuses on in-situ resource utilization for off-Earth construction. The RB team, together with experts in , robotics, and submitted an idea that was granted €100k to develop a preliminary proof of concept.

The proposed approach focuses on the lab's specialty—robotic building—and has four main components—digging out the , printing a new using an additive manufacturing process, coordinating the work between all the robots that would be needed to complete the tasks, and powering them as well as the habitat.

Excavating regolith with robots has been explored previously, but usually in the context of the moon. Different patterns of excavation are useful for building different structures, and the pattern the RB team focused on was a downwards sloping spiral. Such a structure could create a stable, safe structure within a relatively small footprint on the surface.

Concept of a underground habitat and the robots and energy sources that will build and power it. Credit: Bier et al.

Example of some of the subtractive toolpaths that would be use to hollow out the habitat’s tunnels. Credit: Bier et al.

An example of the “rhizome” habitat that would have a relatively small exposed area on the surface but provide a large habitable space underground. Credit: Bier et al.