Meet a family of NASA space robots | 7/22/2019 | Sharmila Kuthunur
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The climbing robot LEMUR rests after scaling a cliff in Death Valley, California in early 2019. The robot uses special gripping technology that has helped lead to a series of new, off-roading robots that can explore other worlds. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

From uncovering the first clues of liquid water on Mars to crossing our solar system, NASA’s missions have been adventurous, to say the least. Ranger 3 was NASA’s first attempt to land a rover on the moon in 1962. Since then, numerous robots have followed Ranger 3 from Earth into space. Yet the surfaces of planets and moons in our solar system remain largely unexplored, partly because current space robots haven’t been capable of scaling cliffs, gripping icy surfaces and otherwise conquering hard-to-reach places.

Month - July - NASA - Jet - Propulsion

This month (July 10, 2019), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory described its work on a new family of robots that can roll, climb, and use artificial intelligence (AI) to navigate around obstacles in rough terrains. These robots are currently being tested on Earth and will later be sent to places that are otherwise inaccessible by humans, helping scientists do meaningful science along the way.

A tiny climbing robot rolls up a wall, gripping with fishhooks – technology adapted from LEMUR’s gripping feet. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Class - Space - Robots - Functionalities - Limbed

This new class of space robots will have functionalities inspired by the Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot (LEMUR), which was originally conceived as a repair robot for the International Space Station. In the video below, NASA describes LEMUR’s last field test, in Death Valley, California in early 2019. The robot used hundreds of fishhooks to climb walls and AI to avoid obstacles that it could not climb. It also used its suite of scientific instruments to scan the rock for ancient fossils, and, as the video explains, it found some!

A direct application of this LEMUR...
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