Inflatable Spherical Robots May Explore Mars

Inflatable, spherical robots could one day roam the surface of Mars in an eerie echo of the Rovers from the TV series The Prisoner.

(Inflatable spherical robots to explore Mars? [Per Samuelsson])

The proposed devices would have a soccer ball-style surface, with hexagonal solar panels gathering energy. The design has funding from the Swedish National Space Board; the "Mars Rovers" would have a diameter of about thirty centimeters after being inflated with xenon gas from an included cartridge.

"Our inflatable rovers are lightweight, travel great distances, use very low energy and will be fairly cheap," says Fredrik Bruhn of Ǻngström Aerospace in Uppsala, Sweden, who initiated the idea that has now been developed by a team of engineers. "One battery charge will let such a rover travel around 100 kilometers."

SF fans will, no doubt, remember The Prisoner, a 1960's series, in which mysterious Rovers would roam the landscape. They could alter their size and were equipped with toxins to incapacitate prisoners.

(The Rover seeks its prey)

A similar technology has already been extensively tested here on Earth; the Rotundus 'groundbot' is being evaluated for security and surveillance.

The Mars version of the device would havfe a skin made of polyaryletheretherketone, an ultra-strong plastic commonly used in space flight applications. The secret of the inflatable spherical robot is inside - a hollow metal axle that stretches from one side of the sphere to the other, supporting all of the rover's electronics on a pendulum. When a motor changes the attitude of the pendulum, the exterior of the robot shifts to compensate for the change in center of gravity; that is, it moves forward or backward on command.

Read more about the tested Rotundus spherical robot technology (with diagrams) as well as the new design prototype for a inflatable, spherical Mars exploration robot. Thanks to the reader who pointed this one out.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/2/2008)

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