With a small army of probes and rovers scouring, surveying, and documenting our solar system, NASA has gathered enough compelling evidence to warrant further exploration of several planets and moons that are known to harbor vast oceans. For example, Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus, and Jupiter’s icy moon Europa are all suspected of containing liquid environments where simple organisms could thrive.
Current rover technology; however, is not fully equipped to handle the variety of terrain that marks these potential candidates for exploration. Jagged slopes, treacherously pock-marked landscapes, and a host of weather anomalies require a newer generation of rovers that can handle almost any condition encountered.
Fortunately, NASA is already fast at work on developing a new generation of rovers that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
Under NASA’s Intelligent Systems Division, researcher Adrian Agogino is leading a team of engineers and scientists to develop a revolutionary design for future rover technology. Instead of the bulky robots we’re accustomed to seeing lurching around on Mars (e.g., Curiosity and Opportunity), Agogino’s latest rover incarnation is based on the structure of tumbleweeds.
As strange as it may sound, tumbleweeds are one of nature’s most efficient travelers on the ground, able to roll over almost any obstacle. Agogino’s experimental rover, called the Super Ball Bot, will employ “machine learning algorithms and neuroscience inspired oscillatory controls known as Central Pattern Generators” for control and handling almost any extraterrestrial environment.
As can be seen in the featured video, the Super Ball Bot is highly flexible, and capable of collapsing and expanding to absorb impact when encountering bumps, dips, and obstacles.
Hopefully, this technology will be perfected soon, so we can continue exploring the mysteries of our closest neighboring planets.