The industrial computer production machinery used in manufacturing are a good example of successful robotics, but are all very, very heavy and cumbersome with little capability to extend beyond planned behavior actions. There may never be a sufficient replacement for humans, despite the frailties of the human mind and limitations of body processes. We make basically a cocoon for transport, and that is also heavy and cumbersome.
Perhaps the duality of the process of forward development will control the history of landings and mission planning?
Where satellites are concerned, as in the MRO, we have great successes. We may simply be looking at the early exploration century of initialization, with the implementing of unimagined devices late this century or into the next. Without digital processes we would still be using the early satellites which had 'wheat straw' type incandescent bulbs for analog switching of circuits. The circuits were component based rather than 'chips'. We made a god start with a scaling of complexity while adding a level of computer designed lensing and miniaturization to SMP and hybrid printed parts.
A good start, but a vast distance to make rovers that can replace parts and power supplies while roving. If we had a supply of batteries at a 'station' we could run a solar recharging device for many added years apparently, with the station recharging batteries while they waited for a returning rover to pull the batteries one by one. Better wheels and motors, and we could possibly run for tens of years. Even that is not a robot autonomous, but a human interacting machine, which I suspect is the best use of robotics.
Digital 'thinking also seems to have many of the frailties of humans, with stall-outs and weakness in coping with confusion or bad information. Sensors and weather control the long term recording and short term health, so, even in the many year rover use, a lengthy mission is best with the robotic rover, but weak in self diagnosis and 'self health'. It is still impossible with humans, and the term of the missions would be very short until systems are proven.
The future appears uncertain to those of us on the outside of the industries of space vehicles and landers. I watched a television show today which described the control of Earth weather with various technical devices fixed or launched by aircraft. The story is similarly an open book being written by experimentation.
These rovers of this decade are carrying only a few instruments, and have non-replaceable power supplies.
First missions to planets and satellites of planets will be one use only for decades almost certainly.
How long do you believe we will wait for human travel beyond the inner planet range?
One simple rover improvement would be a system of camera focusing which is semi-automated or autonomous and which gave the best plane for information returns. I currently enlarge a rover image, then find the 'thin line or section which has good focus, as it has ten times the information of the remaining image even in the best photos. A four corner focus check would have given better information returns for the money invested at the distance and cost of a mission, but as we know, these are initial efforts with new equipment.
The plan to use a second MSL type platform shows the cost reduction in planning rovers over a decade or two. Five would be cheaper still. It is the space hardening that lags good results currently. We could have ten to twenty MB cameras with elaborate lighting and sensors if we had the designing tested and devices space hardened.
When humans decide to stop wasting money on damaging activities and personal waste we will become what we fancy ourselves to be- smart devices of science. That is the real test of our future. It influences only a small percentage of the population after millions of years of human planning. The result is only a fraction of our efforts are constructive and scientific, with added benefits for some or all of us.
Open Access is a challenge for many or most persons.
Good equipment sets unused without missions planned to use current designs. Humans just don't want to be as effective and persistent as machines. I suspect machines are a natural best choice for most missions this century.