Mars rovers like Opportunity (now deceased) and Curiosity have given us a lot of information about the surface of Mars and the development of our solar system. But, they can only do so much. Opportunity was foiled by a global dust storm last year and Curiosity is restricted by its size and martian terrain. NASA is finding solutions for those problems with a new class of rovers that can do some amazing things.
JPL’s Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot (LEMUR) was originally intended to do work on the International Space Station (ISS). It is no longer used for that purpose, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have uses for it. LEMUR can climb, and climbing is something that can be very useful on the surface of the red planet. Using 16 “fingers” equipped with tiny fish hooks, LEMUR completed a difficult climb up steep rock walls in Death Valley early this year.
NASA is also developing assorted “micro-climbers.” They are small robots that can withstand drops from up to 9 feet, have fish hook climbing abilities, adhesive climbing abilities and hybrid wheels that “stick to walls using electrical charges.” That’s cool.
Swimming is cool, too. An underwater gripper from JPL can attach itself to underwater surfaces with fish hook grippers. Yes. That robot is being “tested on the underwater vessel Nautilus off the coast of Hawaii, searching for ocean samples more than 1 mile (1.6 km) beneath the surface.” – space.com
There’s also flight. JPL will launch a solar-powered helicopter along with the Mars 2020 Rover. And, they are looking into getting bird-like robots on to Mars and far-off moons. A bird-like robot would have “clawed feet with embedded fishhooks that grip rock much like a bird clings to a branch,” says JPL engineer Arash Kalantari. That would enable it to perch somewhere to recharge its solar panels and continue the ever so important search for signs of life on Mars.