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For climbing robots, the sky is the limit



Robots can drive on the plains and craters of Mars, but if we could
explore the cliffs, polar ice caps and other hard-to-reach places on the red planet and
beyond? Conceived by
engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a
Four-armed robot named LEMUR (Excursion Limbed Mechanical Utility Robot) can
its rock faces, seized by hundreds of tiny hooks in each of its 16
fingers and using artificial intelligence (AI) to make their way around obstacles.
At his last field test in Death Valley, California in early 2019, LEMUR chose
a road up a cliff while sweeping the rock in search of ancient fossils of the sea
that once filled the area.

LEMUR was
originally designed as a repair robot for the International Space Station.
Although the project has since been completed, it has helped to create a new generation of
walking, climbing and crawling robots. In future missions to Mars or icy moons,
Robots with artificial intelligence and climbing technology derived from LEMUR could contribute to
look for similar signs of life. These robots are under development, perfecting the technology
this could one day be part of future missions in distant worlds. Here are five in
the works:

A mechanical worm for the frozen worlds

How a
robot navigate on a slippery and icy surface? For iceworm,
the answer is one inch at a time. Adapted from a branch of LEMUR, iceworm
moves while frowning and extending his joints like a thumb worm. The robot goes up
ice walls by piercing one end at a time into the hard surface. He can use the
same technique to stabilize while taking scientific samples, even on
precipice. The robot also has the AI ​​of LEMUR, which allows it to navigate while learning
mistakes of the past. To refine his technical skills, the JPL project led Aaron Parness
tests Ice Worm on the Antarctic glaciers and the ice caves of Mount St. Helens so that
he may one day contribute to science on Earth and to more distant worlds: worm of ice
is part of a generation of projects currently exploring the frozen moons of
Saturn and Jupiter, who may have oceans under their frozen crusts.

The robots can land on the moon and drive on Mars, but what about places they can not reach? Designed by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a four-armed robot called LEMUR (Guided Tour Mechanical Utility Robot) can climb rock faces, grabbing hundreds of small hooks at each its 16 its way around obstacles. At his last field trial in Death Valley, California, in early 2019, LEMUR chose a cliff-top road, sweeping the rock in search of ancient sea fossils that once filled the region.

A robotic monkey in the tundra

Ice worm is not
the only approach developed for the frozen worlds like the moon of Saturn, Enceladus,
Geysers located at the South Pole project a liquid in space. A rover in this unpredictable
the world would need to be able to move on ice and on loamy, dilapidated soil. RoboSimian
is developed to meet this challenge.

Originally built
as a disaster relief robot for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),
it has been modified to move in icy environments. Nicknamed "King Louie"
After the character of "The Book of the Jungle", RoboSimian can walk on four
legs, crawl, move like a white worm and slide on his belly like a penguin. he
has the same four limbs as LEMUR, but JPL engineers have replaced his feet
with elastic wheels made of musical thread (the kind of thread found in a piano). Flexible
wheels help King Louie ride on uneven ground, which would be essential in a
place like Enceladus.

Little climbers

Micro-climbers
are wheeled vehicles small enough to fit in a coat pocket but strong enough to
climb the walls and survive the falls up to 3 meters (9 feet). Developed by JPL for the
military, some micro-mountaineers use the LEMUR hook forceps to hang on the rough
surfaces, like rocks and cave walls. Others can scale smooth surfaces, using
technology inspired by the sticky feet of the gecko. The gecko adhesive,
like the lizard that takes its name, rests on microscopic creased hairs that
generate van der Waals forces – atomic forces at the origin of the "viscosity"
if both objects are nearby.

Improve this
gecko-like adhesion, the hybrid wheels of the robots also use an electric charge
hang on the walls (the same phenomenon makes your hair stick to a balloon after
you rub it on the head). JPL engineers created the gecko glue for the
First generation LEMUR, using van der Waals forces for metal grip
walls, even in weightlessness. Micro-climbers with this adhesive or gripping technology
could repair future spacecraft or explore hard-to-reach places on the Moon, Mars
and beyond.

Ocean claws with asteroids

Just like astronauts
underwater for outings in space, the technology developed for ocean exploration can be
a good prototype for missions in places almost without gravity. the Submarine
pliers
is one of the gripping hands of LEMUR, with the same 16
fingers and 250 hooks to grasp irregular surfaces. It could one day be
sent for operations on an asteroid or other small body of the solar system. For
now he is attached to the offshore research vessel Nautilus operated by Ocean Exploration Trust off the coast
from Hawaii where it allows sampling of deep ocean to more than one kilometer under the sea
the surface.

A mini helicopter on a cliff

the small,
solar powered helicopter
accompanying the Mars rover Mars 2020 NASA
Demonstrate technology, paving the way for future projects
flying missions on the red planet. But the JPL engineer Arash Kalantari is not
happy to just fly; he develops a concept for a clamp that could allow
a flying robot to hang on the Martian cliffs. The perching mechanism is adapted
of LEMUR's design: he has clawed feet with built-in hooks that grip the rock
a bit like a bird hangs on a branch. While there, the robot would reload its
batteries via solar panels, giving it the freedom to move and search
proof of life.

Media contact

Arielle Samuelson
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
818-354-0307
arielle.a.samuelson@jpl.nasa.gov

2019-138


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