NASA's Next-Gen Rover Will Tumble On Titan [Video]By Mark Spencer
A unique robot design being worked on by two NASA Ames researchers for the past two years called the Super Ball Bot will roam Titan, Saturn's largest moon, by tumbling on a series of rods instead of rolling on wheels.
NASA's Super Ball Bot is probably a bizarrely designed robot there is. It is basically nothing more than a collection of rods connected by a bunch of cables. Definitely not, what is customarily considered a robot much less a robot that is intended to be sent to space.
The primary advantage of this type of design according to IEEE Spectrum is that tensegrity structures distribute forces excellently. Due to the absence of rigid connections between the rods, which are the basic structure elements of the robot, they can easily be packed, unpack and are resilient to external forces. Stress on the structure is absorbed across the entire structure of the robot.
The Super Ball Bot is designed to make it more of an all-terrain rover, according to Popular Mechanics. Its design allows it to be folded flat before being deployed. This also allows it to be stacked, where multiple Super Ball Bots can be deployed. Due to its free movement, once stuck, it can shift its weight for it to come loose.
The Super Ball Bot is part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which funds technologies a decade or two ahead of its time. The existing model still has kinks to be worked out. Aside from testing if the structure works, plans are also underway to see if it could potentially carry a payload in the center of the structure as it moves along the surface.
Another advantage of the Super Ball Bot is that it can move in any direction, having no problems with the terrain. Its "sticks" contain motors that wind and unwind cables that make it move. It can make its way up hills, and even if 75 percent of its actuators fail or cable breaks, it can still keep going.
Meanwhile, NASA has created a much larger and complex version called SUPERball; it has 12 actuators, which is enough to make the robot move more effectively. It is said that the final version of the new robot will have 24 actuators.