A joint research project will bring about the new helping tool in space exploration – the hedgehog robot.
The hedgehog robot prototype should be able to traverse surfaces and explore smaller objects in space such as comets or asteroids not by using the conventional wheels, but by tumbling and hopping across the surface, in a closer interaction with the object of exploration.
The project is developed by scientists with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Stanford University in Stanford, California, Stanford University in Pasadena, California and of course the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
This easily operated hedgehog robot would come in the shape of a small cube. And, regardless of the side it lands on on the surface of the object it is exploring, it would still be fully operational.
That alone takes a load off the shoulders of NASA teams that are supervising space exploration missions. Being armored in spikes that help tremendously with adherence to any surface and movement, the hedgehog robot would also feature internal flywheels. Nonetheless, the spikes act not only as a protective armor, but also as the hedgehog robot’s feet as it tumbles and jumps across the surface.
Furthermore, according to Issa Nesnas, who is the leader of the JPL scientific team:
“The spikes could also house instruments such as thermal probes to take the temperature of the surface as the robot tumbles”.
Two prototypes have already been tested within the C9 aircraft designed to research microgravity. One of the hedgehog prototypes came from the Stanford team, while the other came from the the JPL team.
Both shared interesting insight on their potential to be used under microgravity conditions for exploring small celestial bodies of interest. The surfaces on which the two prototypes were tested differed greatly and put the hedgehog explorers under great pressure. Yet, whether is was a crumbling surface or an icy one, or whether the surface was patched with rocky and difficult to traverse, the spiked cube-like hedgehogs graduated the test.
The JPL hedgehog weighs 5 kilograms at the moment. As it is prepared for space exploration it’s expected that it will weigh almost double counting all the equipment it would carry for thorough analysis of the space object where it is deployed.
With three flywheels and eight spikes, the JPL prototype slightly dominated the Stanford one. However, both will undoubtedly find their way into future space exploration missions.
Particularly since one scenario envisages more of them released simultaneously or separately on the same object. The production costs are estimated to be significantly lower than those implied by a conventional rover or probe.
As such, the hedgehogs could become the future of scientific research in space.
Photo Credits: Gizmag