Deformable 'Super Ball Bot' Could Be NASA's Next Titan-Exploring Robot
Researchers Vytas SunSpiral and Adrian Agogino from NASA's Ames Research Center are developing a tensegrity-based lander and planetary exploration robot. Tensegrity structures consist of rigid components such as hollow, cylindrical rods connected by flexible materials like elastic cable. The robot design, called the Super Ball Bot, might be able to land on an extraterrestrial surface without assistance - absorbing most of the shock of impact itself and saving the mass needed for more complex landing gear. Since Mars has a thin atmosphere that would likely require a ball bot to carry a parachute, SunSpiral and Agogino are considering Saturn's moon Titan as the robot's first target. Titan has an atmosphere that can slow a spacecraft's descent enough so that the robot can be dropped from 100 kilometers or more above the surface.