Jupiter Moon Robot Coming? NASA Developing Burrowing Robot for Space Mission [Design Details, Features]

Jupiter Moon Robot Coming? NASA Developing Burrowing Robot For Space Mission [Design Details, Features]
Researchers are working with NASA in developing a snake-like burrowing soft robot set to explore lunar sub-terrain in Jupiter. Photo : Lynette Cook/NASA/Getty Images

Robots have long helped in space exploration, but a new variant developed by researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara and the Georgia Institute of Technology is of a special, snake-like burrowing kind.

Such robots could explore the internal structure or material in faraway celestial bodies like the surfaces of Jupiter's Moon. 

NASA Robot Developed to Burrow Surface of Jupiter's Moon

The researchers are working with NASA to develop these soft robots that could burrow in sandy environment before expanding to even farther territory, particularly Enceladus, a moon of the planet Jupiter, BBC Science Focus posted.

In designing the robot, the scientists decided a flexible machine that would overcome resistant forces in the ground by working around sub-terrain material through its burrowing capabilities. The robot would move through sandy terrain by burrowing straight down, similar to plants' root system using a tip that stretches to remove surrounding material, Autoevolution reported.

Movements of the soft robots are made by remotely controlling their "tendons" on either side and maneuvering them to allow sharp turns under winding paths. To move horizontally through the terrain, the robot would mimic the burrowing sand octopus that blows air from its tip in asymmetrical ways to surmount the sand's resistance to get from point A to point B--a process the researchers called air fluidization,per BBC Science Focus. This process keeps solid particles of sand moving, similar to those found in fluids.

Read Also: The UK is Sending a 'Walking' Spider Robot to the Moon in its First Lunar Rover Mission

NASA Robot: Burrowing Process Through Sandy Terrain

As such, a symmetrical object that would move horizontally passing through the sandy terrain would experience lift, research lead author Dr. Nicholas Naclerio said in the study published in Science Daily. He added that it would be easier "to push sand up and out of the way than it is to compact it down."

Because of this, the robot could resurface with only forward airflow. The lift force would then be countered by augmenting a downward airflow to the robot. Such asymmetric combination of forward and downward airflow would lead to manageable horizontal burrowing.

The soft robot being built by the research team is six centimeters in diameter with a tip that make it extend to one meter. Researchers added that they have made robots that are tiny as two millimeters and others that are as big as 70 meters.

With its possible use in NASA space missions, the research team noted that their robots have not yet been tested in space. According to Dr. Naclerio, the robots can be powered by a small amount of compressed gas, a chemical gas generator, or by capturing gas from the immediate environment.

And these bots can only work in sandy terrain as air fluidization "only works in granular media," Dr. Naclerio explained. However, fluidizing with water, he said, would work "in damp or cohesive media like dirt and clay."

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