NASA has unveiled mini robots that can roll, fly, float, swim, and then morph into a single machine, making them shape-shifters. You can it at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory robotics yard in Pasadena, California, where the team is currently testing a 3D-printed prototype. It looks like a drone encased in an elongated hamster wheel rolling across the yard at first glance, but it then splits in half and reveals two halves with small propellers that become flying drones for aerial exploration. It’s essentially a self-assembling robot made of smaller robots called “cobots,” with each one housing a small propeller capable of moving independently of one another to fly along cliffsides of scientific interest. Read more for a video and additional information.
These flying amphibious robots are just one part of an early-stage research program NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), a department aimed at turning ideas that sound like science fiction into a reality. JPL Principal Investigator Ali Agha hopes to see Shapeshifter on a mission to Saturn’s moon Titan, the only other world in the solar system known to have liquid in the form of methane lakes, rivers and seas on its surface, in the near future.
We have very limited information about the composition of the surface. Rocky terrain, methane lakes, cryovolcanoes – we potentially have all of these, but we don’t know for certain. So we thought about how to create a system that is versatile and capable of traversing different types of terrain but also compact enough to launch on a rocket,” said JPL Principal Investigator Ali Agha.