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NASA Testing Origami-Inspired Robot Scout For Exploring Mars

23 March 2017, 1:09 am EDT By Steve Bowman Tech Times
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NASA started testing a robot scout device inspired from origami. This device is well equipped with latest technologies and could play a pivotal role in the next expedition to Mars.  ( NASA/JPL-Caltech )

NASA has started testing an origami-inspired scout robot that will be used to explore the Martian surface.

Mars exploration missions have gained traction in the last few years, and space agencies are developing new rovers and robots that can enable scientists to garner more details of the Red Planet.

PUFFER: A New Robot Scout

Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot or PUFFER has been developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

This device was introduced by Jaakko Karras, who is the project manager of PUFFER at JPL, while he was testing the origami designs. Karras and his associates thought of using a printed circuit board while creating the device.

PUFFER includes a lightweight structure and it is made in such a way that it can tuck its wheels, flatten itself, and explore places, which a typical rover cannot access.

Features Of PUFFER

The scout robot has been tested under varied rugged conditions, starting from the Mojave Desert in California to the frozen plains of Antarctica. It was put through these tests to ensure its functionality in all kinds of terrain, whether sand covered or snow laden.

Originally, this device consisted of four wheels, but at present it only has two wheels that are foldable. The folding of the wheel over the body allows the machine to roll and crawl.

It also consists of a tail which is made for stability. The robot inlcudes a "microimager," which is a high resolution camera, and solar panels are placed on the belly of the PUFFER. The machine flips over when the batteries are drained.

PUFFER can climb up to 45-degree slopes and can even fall into craters and pits unharmed. The robot is considered a strong assistant to large robotic devices that will be sent to Mars in the near term.

"They can do parallel science with a rover, so you can increase the amount you're doing in a day. We can see these being used in hard-to-reach locations — squeezing under ledges, for example," stated Karras.

Another member of the PUFFER group at JPL, Christine Fullera, said that the body and the electronics of PUFFER involve a circuit board. There are no escalating fasteners or any other parts, which are attached to it. The robot has an integrated body.

The team has built a sample of PUFFER and has already started testing it for the past few months. The officials of the PUFFER project said that this device is not yet ready. They plan to give the robot more autonomy by including scientific instruments like gear, which identifies carbon containing organic molecules.

Check out a video of PUFFER in action.

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