NASA Launches Prototype for Shape-Shifting Robots

NASA Launches Prototype for Shape-Shifting Robots

The shape-shifting robot is the brainchild of Roboticist, Ali Agha, and researchers from Stamford University and Cornell University. NASA unveiled the first prototype of these robots, called cobots, which comprises of two flight-capable drones

Fremont, CA: NASA has always been known for coming up with ambitious missions that exceed human capabilities of their times. If you heard of a robot that could shape-shift, roll, fly, swim, and float, you would generally associate it with a sci-fi movie or novel. However, NASA's team at Jet Propulsion Lab Roboticist is working relentlessly to make this a reality by 2026, when the space agency launches its mission to explore Saturn.

Still, in its preliminary stages, the shape-shifting robot is the brainchild of Roboticist, Ali Agha, and researchers from Stamford University and Cornell University. NASA unveiled the first prototype of these robots, called cobots, which comprises of two flight-capable drones. These cobots fit together like pieces of a puzzle with a pipe framed cylindrical structure. Their circular design facilitates them to roll about easily on hilly and rocky terrains. The flying and amphibious robot can also detach itself when required and reattach once the purpose is fulfilled. These cobots can also use one another as launch pads to lift them off for flight, there in which they float around using their propellers.

"It is often the case that some of the hardest places to get to are the most scientifically interesting because maybe they're the youngest, or they're in an area that was not well characterized from orbit," said Jason Hofgartner, JPL lead scientist for Shapeshifter. "Shapeshifter's remarkable versatility enables access to all of these scientifically compelling places."

According to the researchers, the final version of these robots will constitute multiple cobots capable of forming unique shapes that will help them access currently inaccessible terrains. Along with performing an array of functions like flying and floating, these cobots can interconnect and maintain contact to access tough terrains and can also turn themselves into swimming robots. "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," said Agha. "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."

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