NASA exams bot constructed to slither throughout, and beneath, alien worlds’ ice

Video The most recent in high-concept automated house exploration tech from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory appears to be like to have been screwed up and twisted – by design.

JPL’s Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor, aka EELS, is an autonomous rover constructed by connecting articulated segments outfitted with corkscrews that give it the power to “slither” throughout sand, snow, and ice. Archimedes would maybe be astounded to study that his screw goes out of this world.

EELS being examined in JPL’s ‘Mars yard’ – Click on to enlarge

“It has the aptitude to go to places the place different robots cannot go. Although some robots are higher at one explicit sort of terrain or different, the thought for EELS is the power to do all of it,” stated JPL’s Matthew Robinson, EELS challenge supervisor.

The EELS staff has been engaged on the challenge since 2019, and since final yr has been testing its 220-pound, 13-foot (100-kg, 4-metre), ten phase EELS 1.0 in numerous environments, as proven within the video beneath. A number of completely different corkscrews had been constituted of plastic and steel to be used in several types of terrain.

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EELS has not too long ago slithered out of the lab and into mobility exams, throughout which JPL boffins have labored to construct a library of “gaits” to be used in several types of terrain. The ultimate model of EELS might be geared up with 48 actuators to assist get it into a wide range of configurations for navigation in several environments – like down steep crater partitions or wedged between two sides of a chasm. 

Whereas the present model [PDF] operates on a tether for energy and communications, the final word purpose is for EELS to be self-sufficient. It is due to this fact been constructed with the power to map its atmosphere in 3D utilizing a pair of stereo cameras and lidar. That knowledge is fed to a navigation algorithm that chooses the most secure path ahead and the suitable sort of motion wanted to traverse the terrain. 

“Think about a automotive driving autonomously, however there aren’t any cease indicators, no site visitors indicators, not even any roads. The robotic has to determine what the highway is and attempt to comply with it … Then it must go down a 100-foot drop and never fall,” stated Rohan Thakker, EELS’s autonomy lead. 

There aren’t any scientific devices onboard EELS proper now. The staff is specializing in finalizing its actions and validating its sensors work.

EELS has already been examined underground. Future exams will see it go to the Athabasca Glacier within the Canadian Rockies, earlier than extra subsurface mobility trials in several environments. 


EELS head being examined at Athabasca glacier – Click on to enlarge

If and when it reaches mission readiness, JPL stated that EELS may very well be used to discover glaciers on Earth, lava tubes on the Moon, and even the oceans and icy floor of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. However EELS is just not hooked up to any mission as but.

NASA has beforehand proven a liking for eel-like robotic explorers. In 2015 it slung some money at a swimming contraption that would use electrodynamic energy scavenging tech to discover the seas of Jupiter’s moon Europa. 

In the meantime, the European House Company has contemplated decreasing spherical probes into the bottom to map subterranean environments, or swarms of breadcrumb-dropping bots that would construct mesh networks to assist themselves navigate. ®