NASA has developed the prototype of a lunar mining robot it calls the Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot (RASSOR), Scaled up versions of the RASSOR, according to a Jan. 27, 2013 piece in Red Orbit, could be used to collect lunar soil for processing for important resources such as water.
The RASSOR consists of a chassis with treads that has counter rotating drums on either end with sharp scoops that collect lunar regolith layer by layer. The drums double as wheels that can lift the RASSOR over obstacles on the lunar surface. When a haul of lunar soil needs collecting, the drums bite into the lunar surface at 20 revolutions a minute. Then the RASSOR brings the haul back to a centralized hopper which is attached to a processing plant that extracts resources.
Lunar mining is considered important for a couple of reasons. First, the more resources that can be mined on the moon for use by future lunar colonists, the less that are needed to be imported from Earth at great expense. Second, some lunar resources, such as platinum group metals and helium 3, a potential fuel for future fusion power plants, may be valuable enough for export to markets on Earth.
NASA is currently seeking an industrial partner for further development of the mining robot.