University of California, Berkeley
Realizing future goals in exploration missions will require innovative surface probes that can accurately deploy small payloads with speed, robustness and costs unmatched by today's systems. Unfortunately, these goals are difficult to accomplish with small classical surface rovers as they have difficulty navigating large distances quickly. Emerging technologies such as hopping robots can potentially move quickly, but have difficulty accurately positioning a payload or keeping its payload well-protected. We propose to overcome these limitations by combining recent advances in ball-shaped soft-robots based on tensegrity structures (a tension network of rods and cables), with a hopping mechanism based on cold-gas thrusters. The ball-shaped tensegrity robot with a payload suspended at its center can be collapsed into a small deployment volume, be light-weight, and navigate difficult terrain. In addition, this design is capable of rolling dynamically (by actuating its cables) and to survive significant landing impact shocks while protecting a delicate payload. We propose to dramatically increase the mobility of this design by adding a simple gas thruster located near the center payload, so that the robot can quickly cover a 1 km distance over a series of hops, while protecting its payload at the center of its structure. Once it has hopped close to its destination, the robot will use a punctuated rolling motion to reach its exact target.