The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) keep coming up with new era robots that can be sent to space for exploration. There are certain limitations in each design such as time taking research, clumsy motions and prone to damage. Therefore, NASA is trying to design a bot that can transform the traditional way robots perform work assigned to them here on our planet or in the space. They are aiming to build a Super Ball Bot, which looks more like a motor fitted in between a mesh of rods contrary to what we perceive a robot to look as.
The unique looking Super Ball Bot created under NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program, is still under research stage. The bot’s shaky sphere is a tensegrity structure which is dependent on its rigid parts that are joined by pliable cables and joints. The length of the cables, provide the bot with the extra flexibility while rolling on uneven surfaces of the planet or moon along with more speed and elasticity than the present robots. This design also protects the bot by dispersing the stress and pressure over the complete structure rather than directing it on certain joints.
The developers of the bot, Adrian Agogino and Vytas SunSpiral explain that the Tensegrity systems are docile without ceding rigidity. And due to this, when they land or touch things, they naturally alter shape, preventing things from breaking and also saving themselves from incurring any damages. And such robots with inherent buoyancy can be easily landed on a distant planet without assistance from heavy landing machinery. Thus sending a Super Ball Bot will be more safe from any injury causing collision upon landing and will incur less expenditure. NASA plans to send the bot on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, for its first mission.
With Tensegrity systems, the bot can even explore areas which are normally not safely accessible for present day rovers. They can access and reach to the edges of the cliffs and other dangerous locations where rocks of geological and historical importance are exposed. These bots will be able to perform tasks in much less time while the other robot might take an entire day to complete the same task and thus Super Ball Bot will save time and is not as risky as it would be, if a multimillion dollar rovers are send to the edge of the cliff.
SunSpiral says that they are on the verge of possessing tools that are required to construct a robot based on Tensegrity into a reality. This way of engineering is completely opposite to the traditional engineering, where pieces of metals are attached to the motors so that it can move. And therefore it will take more time when the Super Ball Bot will actually be sent to space as it still require technologies to be further developed so that the bot can perform autonomously without direct supervision. And lots of other design challenges need to be resolved before a completely new robot can be made. Nevertheless a completely new and safer bot idea has been devised which require more research in the coming years.
Apart from using the robot for space exploration, bot based on the concept of both strong and resilient can also be used in military for procuring the information from the battle field with uneven surface and too risky for humans to go.