NASA TeTWalker Shape-Shifting Robot Update

TeTWalker, the shape-shifting tetrahedral walker under development by NASA, is back in the news (see the previous story TETWalker: Shape-Shifting Robot Swarm). A next-generation prototype successfully navigated the terrain around Meteor Crater in Arizona.

(TETWalker Prototype)

The simplest version of the device (the one that conquered Meteor Crater) is a single tetrahedron walker. For those who do not recall, a tetrahedron is a geometric solid with four plane triangular faces. The robot really is a shape-shifter; its struts can telescope and retract, thereby pushing the nodes out or pulling them back in. Various combinations of this trick lead to a unique way of walking. One of the project designers, Professor Pamela Clark, refers to it as a "drunken sailor walk" because it is so irregular.

The advantage of this sort of walk is that it can be the ideal way for a robot to negotiate highly irregular terrain, like the surface of Mars. A 12 tetrahedron version is currently under development; as the number of tetrahedrons increases, the motion of the robot really starts to flow nicely in an amoeba-like fashion - see the very cool video below). It can even scale chimney-like structures like a human climber.

(NASA 12 Tetrahedron TeTWalker video)

Read more at the Autonomous NanoTechnology Swarm website and at Technology Review.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/24/2006)

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