This was actually a spin off of the original idea of a temporary research station. My high risk option identified the possibility of something robotic that was not a static element on the environment. I have to remember, that at this point in time, humans will be going there to determine the possibility of life existing, as well as the potential to inhabit the planet. A robotic research facility would help in a few different aspects: What better experience for scientist than to be able to traverse the entire planet while retaining its lab and living conditions. You could almost look at these as vehicles that you could just research in, or vehicles that you could live and research in. It doesn't make much sense to only live in these things. The function of mobility would benefit the researchers, and I think also provide some level of escape for the humans physiologically. Seeing new terrain, observing new geology, experiencing fresh places would most likely be a very calming thing.
However, creating home on something static is a benefit. It roots the human to a place, gives them a new home. So I think the best mix here is a research lab that moves and provides the variety of visual stimulation, but also a home that roots to a specific place. It may even be something that perhaps you live in the hab pod for a few days/weekends, and are out exploring for a few weeks at a time. I could see an overlapping of functional capability.
The first version I considered was a type of tank/craft. I imagined it having many functioning tracks that could be versatile in many different directions and configurations. Keep in mind, Ceres will be about 30 degrees colder than Antarctica and likely very rough and crater filled, similar to that of the moon. This will have to be a rugged piece of equipment. Tracks are known for being able to traverse rugged environments, so naturally it was the first thing I considered.
I also looked at mites, especially ones that are native to the antarctic region. they have little hooks that allow them to grip surfaces. I felt that it was worth a shot at speculating more of an ice-hook grapple legged mite robot. That may sound silly, but the function actually makes a lot of sense. It could be dynamic in an inconsistent environment, it could climb and latch on areas that a vehicle like structure may not be able to. Once again a concept, but perhaps a viable one.
The tardigrade is one of the most resilient creatures known to man. Also living in the coldest parts of the earth, it has been known to freeze completely and wake back up alive. These things almost look like they are fake, but they are some of the most unique creatures to share this earth. I really only pulled proportions from them, I am not quite sure how they function yet. However they too have developed little hook grippers for hands. I felt naturally that this multi legged research lab would be a clunky, massive, slowly moving but sturdy platform in which to trek perhaps deeper into the depths of Ceres.
I am considering this as a potential propulsive lab that is almost like a submarine, except it would float above the ground. With the low gravity, it wouldn't take much to keep these things hovering which would eliminate the rocky, dusty, icy crust all together.
It also may make sense to look at an amphibious component to where this thing could go both above water and below. Although chances are it would take some very extensive drilling to get to liquid water, it may actually present new opportunities to where this thing act both as a submarine (swim), and a tardigrade or mite (latching onto ice). I think all options are interesting and speculate that the combination of these things may warrant the best solution for human researchers and living components. I am really leaning towards efficient constructed robot/human pods, with the capability of plugging right into these dynamic research crafts, whatever they may turn out to be.
If there is one idea that stemmed from this process that has the most merit it would be the concept of the robotic mobile research lab would be a really revolutionary idea. Not by the fact that it is mobile and a research laboratory, but the fact that it is a mobile research laboratory and a functioning component of the hab module. I keep getting the question raised, well what do you offer space architecture? And where as they are right, I have not been proposing anything revolutionary. And I don't know that I will. But considering things and how they have multiple functions is as much of a design challenge as any. The purpose of my entire project is to inspire ideas.
This idea actually benefits progression on numerous levels. For one, having a mobile element itself allows for long duration exploration missions. Where the researchers could spend days at a time there, rather than typical one day vehicle exploration. This would also increase the amount of terrain that could be covered, which would enhance our scientific findings and understandings of the planets.
Functionally though, Carrying a huge lunkin robot through space is something that wouldn't really be considered beneficial. Especially considering the launch restrictions for something that size to just be added on. By integrating the function to have a dual purpose, both deep space flight and planetary roving, gives this thing an added benefit.
The trouble with this concept is that this thing has to have similar functions to the main base or hab module itself. The function of eating, sleeping, bathing, must be incorporated into the design if the function is explore the Cerean landscape for more than a day. Likewise, the function needs to be replaced at the base. This is where the infrastructure pods come into play.