Updated 07:27 PM EST, Fri, Mar 05, 2021

NASA Super Ball Bot Could Explore Solar System in Unique Ways

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NASA is looking for new ways to explore the planets and moons found within the solar system and beyond, and one type of robot NASA hopes will be capable of handling the extreme terrain found on different celestial bodies is the Super Ball Bot, a rover that looks unimpressive but is capable of handling all sorts of extreme conditions.

NASA's page on the Super Ball Bot reveals the science behind the strange looking robot, which looks like several polls tied together. Due to it's design, the Super Ball Bot will be much more flexible than other robots sent into outer space such as the Mars Curiosity Rover and NASA will be able to pack many of the robots together on one mission. Titan, one of Saturn's moons, is one of the possible destinations listed by NASA for the Super Ball Bots and the new type of robotic space missions:

"Small, light-weight and low-cost missions will become increasingly important to NASA's exploration goals for our solar system. Ideally teams of dozens or even hundreds of small, collapsible robots, weighing only a few kilograms a piece, will be conveniently packed during launch and would reliably separate and unpack at their destination. Such teams will allow rapid, reliable in-situ exploration of hazardous destination such as Titan, where imprecise terrain knowledge and unstable precipitation cycles make single-robot exploration problematic."

The space agency also explained how the strange design of the Super Ball Bot allows for a more flexible launch for the rover and allow NASA to worry about the many small failures that can derail a rover's launch.

"Unfortunately landing many lightweight conventional robots is difficult with conventional technology. Current robot designs are delicate, requiring combinations of devices such as parachutes, retrorockets and impact balloons to minimize impact forces and to place a robot in a proper orientation. Instead we propose to develop a radically different robot based on a 'tensegrity' built purely upon tensile and compression elements. These robots can be light-weight, absorb strong impacts, are redundant against single-point failures, can recover from different landing orientations and are easy to collapse and uncollapse. We believe tensegrity robot technology can play a critical role in future planetary exploration."
While the Super Ball Bot may not look very impressive, the simple design allows NASA to have more rugged and flexible exploration robots that can more easily explore and map terrain that could ruin the current models that NASA uses for extraterrestrial exploration.

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