NASA’s squishable robot ideal for exploring Titan, Saturn’s largest moon

nasa squishable robot super ball bot

The extreme challenges and conditions faced by rovers during missions to explore other planets has inspired researchers and engineers to look into alternative, more suitable designs.

After considering the complicated choreography of a regular landing – as we saw with the Mars Curiosity rover in August last year – as well as the challenging terrain a rover often faces once it reaches a planet’s surface, engineers at NASA have come up with an ultra-flexible squishable robot designed to effortlessly cope with any planetary surface it finds itself on.

Although the so-called Super Ball Bot has been in development for some time, it’s only this week that we’ve been able to see a prototype of the creation in action (check it out in the video below).

Made up of hollow cylindrical rods connected by flexible materials such as elastic cable, the clever design draws on the principles of ‘tensegrity’ (a portmanteau of ‘tensional’ and ‘integrity’), allowing any impact to be safely absorbed along multiple paths.

The ball bot essentially rolls along a surface, adjusting rapidly and effortlessly to its environment no matter how challenging it happens to be. Scientific instruments for collecting and transmitting data could be housed inside the cylindrical rods.

Its durability and flexibility means it can actually be dropped onto a planet’s surface from a great distance – as high up as 62 miles (100 km) – thereby eliminating the need for complex multi-stage landing procedures involving parachutes, retrorockets, and other such paraphernalia.

super ball bot

The team behind the robot is considering sending it to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, which has an atmosphere so thick that a relatively simple parachute-free landing is a real possibility.

Another advantage of NASA’s ball bot is its small size when packed, with the space agency envisioning sending hundreds of them on a single mission. Upon arrival their destination, the bots would be able to automatically spring into shape. Although the highly capable rovers currently in operation are able to send back a wealth of information about their environment, imagine how much data could be collected by hundreds of these ball bots roaming a planet’s surface.

While the ball bot is still some way off being ready for deployment – engineers are currently tackling the issue of precise movement – there’s an excellent chance that these remarkable collapsing robots will one day be rolling across faraway planets and moons, sending back information that could help us unlock the enduring mysteries of our solar system and beyond.

[Source: IEEE, NASA]

Emerging Tech

NASA is building an inflatable space robot named King Louie

NASA is funding an inflatable robot called King Louie which could travel to the stars in deflated form and then be blown up when and where required. Here is why that's so exciting.
Smart Home

I have seen the future, and it’s full of salad-making robots

Think that robots bussing tables, tossing salads and baking bread is a futuristic concept? It's actually not as far away as you might think. Robots took center stage at a food robotics summit in San Francisco this week, where they showed…
Home Theater

What’s new on Amazon Prime Video and what’s leaving in May 2019

Amazon Prime Video adds new titles each month that are available for free to all Prime members. Check out our list to find all the content hitting Amazon Prime Video in April and May, from new original series to classic films.
Mobile

The Samsung Galaxy Fold won’t sell unlocked, but here’s where it’s available

The Samsung Galaxy Fold boasts top-tier specs in a groundbreaking and unique design, and as such it makes sense that you might want to get the phone for yourself. Here are all the places you can get the Galaxy Fold for yourself.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and others that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

Watch a pack of SpotMini robot dogs perform a terrifying feat of strength

Boston Dynamics' SpotMini robotic dog is now going around in packs, and the results are somewhat concerning. Check out the video to see what kind of shenanigans 10 of them got up to recently ...
Emerging Tech

How emotion-tracking A.I. will change computing as we know it

Affectiva is just one of the startups working to create emotion-tracking A.I. that can work out how you're feeling. Here's why this could change the face of computing as we know it.
Emerging Tech

Notre Dame fire: How drones and a robot called Colossus helped limit the damage

The fire that devastated the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday shocked many around the world. In a bid to prevent even worse damage to the structure, Paris firefighters opted to deploy drones and a robot called Colossus.
Emerging Tech

New gunfire-detection system alerts police of shooters in seconds, not minutes

The Safe Zone Gunfire Detector is a fast gunfire-detection system that could help avert potential tragedies in public places like schools, malls, or anywhere a mass shooting might occur.
Emerging Tech

NASA chooses a special spot for its next crewed moon landing

Following the U.S. government's announcement last month of a desire to see American astronauts set foot on the moon again in the next five years, NASA has revealed a location on the lunar surface where it would most like to land.
Emerging Tech

Adidas has created a running shoe that’s made to be remade

Adidas has unveiled the Futurecraft Loop running shoe that it claims is the first performance footwear to be 100% recyclable. The shoe is the latest green initiative by the sportswear company and will go on sale in 2021.
Emerging Tech

Yale scientists restore cellular activity in a pig’s brain hours after its death

In what some may view as a porcine version of Frankenstein, Yale University scientists have restored circulation and cellular activity in a pig’s brain four hours after its death. The study is likely to be used to study brain function
Emerging Tech

Russia’s robot news anchor gives human TV presenters hope

Human news anchors anxious about robots taking their jobs will be feeling reassured this week after the appearance on Russian TV of a news-reading android that clearly needs a bit of work.
Emerging Tech

U.S. police are testing out Batman-style bola guns to catch criminals

U.S. police are taking a page out of Batman’s playbook with a new grappling hook gun, called the BolaWrap, which fires out a kevlar cord able to tie up assailants in the blink of an eye.