Scientists have decided to give bots in space claws and whiskers. Complaints have been pouring in from space bots that everyday tasks like picking things up are unbelievably complex for them.
The tap of a missed grab can propel an object into an uncontrollable spin in zero gravity, a grip too hard can shatter particulate matter into dust and rock surfaces are difficult to grasp due to their lack of uniform shape.
Two new robot-prototypes released last month aim to solve this.
So what tools are these bots given to become better hunters and gathers? How about the tools tiny mammals have been using here on earth for thousands?
NASA’s rock-climber, a robot roughly the size of a human hand, comes equipped with 750 unique opportunistic claws, able to respond in real time to changes in texture and navigate rocky terrain that would leave most rovers toppled over. These tiny claws, multidirectional and independent of one another, are modeled off of insect legs and allow the robot to cling to uneven surfaces from different angles at the same time, providing stability and a much better grip. This boost has given the rover the ability to not only climb over obstacles it meets, but even hang upside down from vertical rock faces. Able to hold 10 kg in Earth terms, without the constraints of gravity this number could reach much higher, meaning this rock-climber could soon be bringing home big, previously unreachable and uncollectable samples for researchers with its many clawed paw.
Shrewbot, as he is being fondly called by the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, is aptly named, rimmed with a multitude of whiskers similar to those used by small mammals such as shrews and mice.
Independent of light or clear conditions, whiskers rise above many of the challenges faced in space absorbing textile information and perceiving this information in the root. This gives Shrewbot the gift of sight, allowing it to better decide what to pick up and how to go about it based on the consistency of the object. Whiskers allow organisms to essentially feel their environment, and it is quite possible researchers may be able to feel parts of outer space for themselves sometime in the future by extension of these new facial hairs. Researchers are also optimistic this kind of sensitive touch could be used to test the pressure of underwater pipelines or find survivors or remains in extreme search and rescue conditions.