Ground autonomous mobile robots have important applications, such as reconnaissance, patrol, planetary exploration and military applications. In order to accomplish tasks on rough terrain, control and planning methods must consider the physical characteristics of the vehicle and of its environment. Failure to understand these characteristics could lead to vehicle endangerment and consequent mission failure. This paper describes recent and current work at the Politecnico of Bari in collaboration with the University of Lecce in the area of deformable terrain mobility and sensing. A cylindrical mobile robot is presented and its rolling motion on terrain is studied from a theoretical and experimental prospect. A comprehensive model is developed taking into account the interaction of the vehicle with the terrain and the related dynamic ill-effects, such as rolling resistance and slip, and it is experimentally validated. An unconventional application of the vehicle serving as a tactile sensor is discussed and experimental results are presented showing the effectiveness of the cylindrical mobile robot in estimating the properties of homogeneous, deformable terrain, which in turn can be used to assess the vehicle traversability.
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