JPL’s Light-Weight Survivable Rover Concept
NASA and JPL have always been on the leading edge of applied research, and are humanity’s biggest proponents of robotic technology. On this page, Robot Magazine will get you started looking at the latest in their labs.
JPL’s Dr Paul S. Schenker has developed a new research concept vehicle to assist preparations for future planetary missions. It’s designed for “local area science sorties” in the “MarsYard.”
Check out those wheels!
Dr Schenker told Robot Magazine that the wheels were invented by a member of his team, Lee Sword. The wheel assembly collapses to fit snuggly during transport, and snaps to rigidity, sturdy enough for the rockiest terrain. Yet the wheels weigh only three-quarter kilograms (half pound). This helps the rover trim down to 7 kg! Each wheel measures 21 cm in diameter. The whole vehicle is less than a meter long and 45 cm tall.
Who cares!? A lot of people. Obviously, space agencies and any corporation needing to send vehicles via commercial space transports need this technology. Not so obviously, military air-droppable (or submarine-inserted) incursion vehicles would benefit.
What about rescue, terran exploration, and fire fighting robots? Innovative, compact wheel designs can lead to a smaller generation of cluster-bots carried by mother-bots.
This technology is a true FORCE MULTIPLIER.
Robots Get a Boost from NASA’s Policy
NASA’s new policy, exploring Mars by robot, includes 10 launches. The first was on Nov 4th, 1996. Orbiters will survey Mars from the “air” and landers will search for life. “I suspect that there are sheltered places on Mars — on the polar caps, in the polar caps, under the surface somewhere — (where) there’s permafrost, sources of perhaps liquid water we haven’t yet discovered,” said Wes Huntress of NASA’s Office of Space Science.
Pathfinder will deliver Sojourner to the Martian surface on July 4, 1997. The Global Surveyor will arrive Sep 11, 1997 and spend several months flying around Mars, performing “eye in the sky” recon for the Sojourner.
The Mars Surveyor Program includes sending pairs of ships to Mars every 26 months.
The six wheeled 16 kilogram Sojourner microrover will operate during the mid-day for 7 to 30 “sols,” which are each 24.6 hours long. It will use a laser obstacle detector to get around. Detailed descriptions of almost every aspect of the mission, including engineering overviews, mission characteristics and even the current weather on Mars are available on the first-rate award winning Web pages posted by NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Visit them when you exit this magazine.
NASA’s archive of photos of nearly 100 exploring robots (plus dozens of Mars explorer photos are available)
Sojourner photo from NASA archive