Axel Rover Robotic Crater Explorer Yo-Yo-Bot
NASA's Axel Rover is a whirling yo-yo-bot designed for the most challenging terrain on the Moon and beyond. NASA refers to a robot like the Axel Rover as a 'tethered marsupial rover' because it would spend most of its time attached to a larger vehicle until it is needed.
(Nasa axel rover)
The Axel Rover prototype carries a tether, which would be attached to the larger, conventional rover robot. When conventional robots like Spirit and Opportunity encounter a crater, they cannot descend and explore. However, the Axel Rover can.
(NASA Axel concept 'tethered marsupial rover')
According to Pablo Abad-Manterola, one of the contributing CalTech students:
Right now, it's really risky for astronauts or robots, for example, like Spirit an Opportunity to go into craters. The ground is too loose and the slopes are too steep. So it's too risky for those robots to get into those craters and perform any interesting science. So this robot would be very useful for those types of scenarios, where you can really dive into those craters, pick up some samples, and really analyze them and tell us something really new and interesting about Mars or the moon, for example.
Take a look at the AXEL rover prototype in action here on Earth in the following video.
(Axel Rover video)
The whirling Axel rover reminds me of those wonderful whirling tripedal spider robots (or biots) from Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama.
See also JALURO Lunar Robot - 2-Wheeled Open Source.
Update 16-Feb-2009: I recently encountered an incredibly accurate description of this rover, in the form of an animal species described by E.E. 'Doc' Smith in his 1950 novel First Lensman:
"There's something moving closer than that, and it's really funny." Jack laughed deeply. "Its like the paddle-wheels, shaft and all, of an old-fashioned river steamboat, rolling along as unconcernedly as you please. He won't miss me by over four feet, but he isn't swerving a hair. I think I'll block him off, just to see what he does."
The traveler paid no attention, did not alter its steady pace of a couple of miles per hour. It measured about twelve inches long over all; its paddle-wheel-like extremities were perhaps two inches wide and three inches in diameter.
(Read more about Smith's fontema)
From NASA and Engadget.
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