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The Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot (PUFFER) that’s in development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, was inspired by origami. It travels with a rover, and its lightweight design can flatten itself, tucking in its wheels and crawling into places rovers can’t fit.

PUFFER was outfitted for field testing in snow during a recent trip to Antarctica’s Mt. Erebus. (Credit: Dylan Taylor)

Over the past year and a half, PUFFER has been tested in a range of rugged terrains, from the Mojave Desert in California to the snowy hills of Antarctica. The idea is to explore areas that might be too risky for a full-fledged rover to go, such as steep slopes or behind sand dunes.

It is designed to skitter up 45-degree slopes, investigate overhangs, and even drop into pits or craters. PUFFER is meant to be the hardy assistant to a larger robot companion — several of the microbots can be flattened like cards and stacked one on top of the other.

Then, they can be flicked out, popped up and begin exploring. PUFFER's creators at JPL hope to see the bot rolling across the sands of Mars someday. But they imagine it could be used by scientists right here on Earth, as well.

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