NASA's tensegrity ball robot can bounce its way across planets

NASA has used all kinds of designs to get a rover landed safely on some other celestial body, but most of the vehicles turn into straightforward wheel-based carts once they're on the ground. Not so with the Super Ball Bot, which uses its flexible tensegrity ball design to protect it both during landing, and while moving around.

Buckminster Fuller coined the word "tensegrity" to describe a structure where cables in tension are used to provide integrity. The twist with the NASA Super Ball Bot is that cables are attached to motors that can alter their tension and length, allowing the robot to become flexible for landing, or to alter its shape in a way that allows it to move across the ground.

The prototypes being developed at NASA's Ames Research Center in California are about three feet across, but NASA says that the basic design can easily be scaled up or down in size to suit different tasks. The current thinking at Ames is that this type of robot will be perfect for a mission to Saturn's largest moon Titan. Titan is big enough to have a thick dense atmosphere, which means that a passing spaceship could drop the Super Ball Bot from over 60 miles up, yet have it land safely on the surface.

Check out the video below to see some of NASA's Super Ball Bot robot prototypes in action.

NASA, via IEEE Spectrum


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