Science

NASA News: Robots To Be Built With Better Gears

By Monica U Santos , Dec 04, 2016 09:58 AM EST

NASA Believes that the most important thing to do when you are building a robot is for it to have a great gear. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) under NASA is on the quest of building the best gear for their robots. As reported, the team would mind using metallic glass for their robot gears.

Robots To Be Built With Better Gears

According to the news published by Popular Mechanics, the bulk of the research is being performed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and its focus isn't so much on changing the way gears typically work; don't expect any weird new shapes or strange new rotary transmission designs.

The plan of the team, headed by technologist Douglas Hofmann, is to work on the materials, specifically to come up with something that can handle the frigid void or even icy planets without becoming so brittle that it's at risk of shattering. The most promising candidate is a material that's both metal and yet also glass.

Metallic glass is like an atomic structure, it has low melting temp and can be blow-molded when heated, as described by Engadget. Gears made out of the this don't get brittle and won't need lubricants on cold environments. NASA says the Curiosity rover has to heat up lubricants every time it wants to move -- metallic glass gears could save precious energy when exploring alien worlds.

"Being able to operate gears at the low temperature of icy moons, like Europa, is a potential game changer for scientists. Power no longer needs to be siphoned away from the science instruments for heating gearbox lubricant, which preserves precious battery power."

Building The Perfect Gear

As per Clarksville Online, the secret on the perfect metallic gear is the its atomic structure. Metals have an organized, crystalline arrangement. But if you heat them up into a liquid, they melt and the atoms become randomized. Cool them rapidly enough –about 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius) per second — and you can trap their non-crystalline, “liquid” form in place.

This produces a random arrangement of atoms. That structure gives these materials their common names: “amorphous metals,” or metallic glass. By virtue of being cooled so rapidly, it is technically a glass. It can flow easily and be blow-molded when heated, just like windowpane glass. When this glassy material is produced in parts greater than about .04 inches, it’s called “bulk” metallic glass, or BMG.

Incorporating BMG into the gears of NASA robots could allow the machines to withstand harsh environments and low temperatures, and even perform efficiently without lubricant, which can help preserve battery power. Electronics 360 mentioned that a BMG could be used to produce more affordable strain wave gears, the type typically used in NASA’s most expensive robots.

 

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