We’ve Just Seen NASA’s Rock Climbing Robot and it is Awesome
Kyle Maxey posted on November 07, 2013 |

robot, JPL, climber, rock climb, mars, moon, space, research, geology, NASA, At the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) debuted a video of the world’s first rock climbing robot.

Over the past year JPL researchers have been hard at work designing a micro-spine gripper system that can firmly attach itself to rock. In its first iteration, designers at JPL conceived of the micro-gripper as a hand-held tool that could be used by astronauts when sampling soil and rock on the Moon or Mars.

As the micro-gripper developed, however, researchers realized they could integrate it with their LEMUR IIB robot body – creating a four legged beast with gripping feet that are capable of scaling any porous surface.

Key to the success of the micro-gripper are the two actuators and 750 micro-spines that make up each circular foot. According to the video, as the robot places its appendage on a rocky surface “torsion springs push the claw into the rock” and “an engagement actuator draws the claws inward through a network of springs that allow the claws to independently find rough spots to grip.” Once engaged, the robotic claw is then capable of lifting up to 15kg (35lbs) on the most porous volcanic rock.

With its advanced micro-gripper feet, the LEMUS IIB has proven itself by scaling vertical, inverted, and steeply slanted rock walls. Even as it blazes a new trail, however, JPL admits that the overall design still has a ways to go before it can be sent to distant worlds. Currently, the robot’s legs only have three degrees of freedom, meaning it can only scale the flattest of surfaces. Additionally, it still has to be tethered to a nearby controller.

JPL has plans to add micro-gripper feet to future generations of its LEMUR and RoboSimian robots; meaning that with any luck the world’s first rock climbing robot is just the first of many more to come.

Images and Video Courtesy of JPL Robotics

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