Scientists Unveils Shapeshifter Robot / Video

Sunday, September 29, 2019 - 12:10

Scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have unveiled 3D printed a prototype of the robot that is already capable of doing some impressive maneuvers.

According to the New Atlas report, the “Shapeshifter” is a developmental concept at the early stage, and is designed to change its shape depending on the type of alien terrain it encounters.

NASA’s thinking with the Shapeshifter is that it will actually be made up of a number of smaller robots, which can self-assemble into a larger machine and disassemble again as the mission calls for it.

In the case of this prototype, these smaller, so-called "cobots" are fitted out with a propellor that essentially makes them small quadcopters, able to fly of their own accord. But the two smaller cobots can come together to become a rolling wheel-shaped machine that could one day tumble across the surface of Titan (or other places like it).

"We have very limited information about the composition of the surface. Rocky terrain, methane lakes, cryovolcanoes – we potentially have all of these, but we don't know for certain," says JPL Principal Investigator Ali-akbar Agha-mohammadi. "So we thought about how to create a system that is versatile and capable of traversing different types of terrain but also compact enough to launch on a rocket."

The team imagines that as many as 12 smaller cobots could work together as a part of larger robotic explorers that investigate caves or underwater environments. These would travel to Titan or other distant worlds aboard a mothercraft lander, which would carry their energy source and instruments for sample analysis.

The Shapeshifter concept will be submitted for consideration for further development under the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) research program in 2020. But the next spacecraft to visit Titan will be NASA’s Dragonfly drone, which will fly through the atmosphere on the hunt for organic molecules that could hint at signs of life. Dragonfly is scheduled for launch in 2026 and to arrive at Titan in 2034.

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