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Shapeshifters from Science Fiction to Science Fact: Globetrotting from Titan’s Rugged Cliffs to its Deep Seafloors

Aliakbar Aghamohammadi
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Shapeshifters exploring Kraken Mare by self-assembling/disassembling to different shapes. Credits: Ali Agha, Jose Mendez, JPL

Shapeshifter is a novel system concept for all-access and cross-domain mobility on bodies with atmospheres. The proposed robotic platform is capable of mobility across domains including flying in the atmosphere, rolling on a smooth surface, navigating subsurface voids (ex. caves), floating on a lake surface and propelling under an ocean. Shapeshifter is a flying amphibious robot (FAR). It is comprised of smaller robotic units (each referred to as a cobot) which combine to shapeshift into different mobility modes. Each cobot is extremely simple with minimal design consisting of a few propellers as actuators. Shapeshifter can morph into a ball that rolls on the surface, a flight array that can fly & hover above-surface and move in subsurface voids, and a torpedo-like structure to swim under-liquid efficiently, among other mobility modes. In addition to all-access, cross-domain mobility, shapeshifter morphs into other functional systems to carry out a diverse set of tasks. Examples include transporting large and heavy objects, traversing long distances with minimal power consumption, creating communication networks to communicate to surface from deep hard-to-access areas.

2018 Phase I and Phase II Selections