Aerospace & Defense

"Super Ball Bot" Planetary Lander Demonstrates Its Robustness


Small, lightweight, and low-cost missions will become increasingly important to NASA's exploration goals. Ideally teams of small, collapsible robots will be conveniently packed during launch and would reliably separate and unpack at their destination. NASA is developing a robot based on a 'tensegrity' built purely upon tensile and compression elements. This video is a demonstration of the first 'Super Ball Bot' planetary lander prototype showing initial examples of impact robustness and locomotion. This prototype was developed specifically to address foundational engineering concepts related to locomotion of tensegrity robots, such as sensor and actuator design, controllability, and system performance analysis. While this prototype was not explicitly designed to withstand the high speed landing scenerios envisioned for the full system, it can easily survive falls of about three feet, which would seriously damage most traditional robots. A future prototype will integrate lessons learned from this iteration, and will incorporate a number of design features to enable high-speed landing scenerios.