Skip to main content

This remarkable shape-shifting robot could one day head to Mars

NASA is focusing increasingly on interplanetary missions to faraway places like Mars, and such highly ambitious voyages will require robotic equipment to assist astronauts with a range of tasks.

Mori3: A polygon-based modular robot

With that in mind, a team of researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland is developing a remarkable robot called Mori3 that’s capable of changing its size, shape, and function, morphing from 2D triangles into almost any 3D object. You can see it in action in the video above.

“Our aim with Mori3 is to create a modular, origami-like robot that can be assembled and disassembled at will depending on the environment and task at hand,” said Jamie Paik, director of the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab, and co-author of a recently published study detailing the project.

As Paik suggests, Mori3 would be well suited to space missions as it can be configured into a number of shapes according to the specific task. Although the team envisions it being used for things like external repairs and communications, it could be configured for entirely new tasks as they become apparent. Importantly, it can also be stored flat, saving precious space on a long-duration crewed mission.

Paik acknowledges that a “general-purpose robot like Mori3 will be less effective than specialized robots in certain areas,” but adds that “Mori3’s biggest selling point is its versatility.”

Polygon meshing

Mori3’s triangular modules join together to create polygons of different sizes and configurations in a process called polygon meshing.

“We have shown that polygon meshing is a viable robotic strategy,” said team member Christoph Belke, though he added that to make it happen the team had to “rethink the way we understand robotics.”

Many space robots are currently a little clunky or limited in what they can do. The space station’s CIMON, for example, was basically a floating display that provided astronauts with information for various jobs, while the Astrobee continues to perform routine tasks involving navigation, crew monitoring, and logistics management. Robonaut also deserves a mention for being the first humanoid robot in space, but it’s still some way from being genuinely useful.

NASA is eyeing the late 2030s for the first human mission to Mars and so there’s a good chance that the crew will be traveling alongside a number of robots, a more advanced version of Mori3 possibly among them.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Watch this highlight reel chronicling Starliner’s launch day
A ULA Atlas V rocket transporting the Starliner spacecraft to orbit.

A ULA Atlas V rocket transporting the Starliner spacecraft to orbit lifts off on Wednesday. Boeing Space

After years of delays and multiple launch postponements in recent weeks, Boeing Space’s Starliner spacecraft finally transported its first crew to orbit on Wednesday, June 6.

Read more
SpaceX Starship rocket survives reentry mostly intact in fourth test flight
starship fourth test flight screenshot 2024 06 145159

The mighty Starship rocket that SpaceX intends to use to transport astronauts to the moon and beyond has made another largely successful test flight, blasting off and returning to Earth somewhat intact. The uncrewed test today was the fourth launch of the Starship to date, following a third test in March in which the Starship launched, but was lost during reentry.

The rocket launched from SpaceX's Starbase facility in Texas at around 9 a.m. ET this morning, Thursday January 6. The Starship lifted off from Texas and traveled through the atmosphere. It then flew over the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. It traveled for around 40 minutes. The ship then came back through the atmosphere for a reentry, splashing down in the Indian Ocean.

Read more
Boeing Starliner arrives safely at the ISS, but it sprung more leaks along the way
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams aboard, approaches the International Space Station for an autonomous docking as it orbited 257 miles above the South Pacific Ocean.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams aboard, approaches the International Space Station for an autonomous docking as it orbited 257 miles above the South Pacific Ocean. NASA Television

Boeing's Starliner has completed its first crewed journey to the International Space Station (ISS), carrying NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams following its dramatic launch yesterday. The Starliner docked with this ISS at 1:34 p.m. ET, after a journey of just over 24 hours from its launch from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Read more