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Astrobiology Magazine

For Climbing Robots, the Sky’s the Limit

3 Aug 2019, 16:49 UTC
For Climbing Robots, the Sky’s the Limit
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Robots can drive on the plains and craters of Mars, but what if we could explore cliffs, polar caps and other hard-to-reach places on the Red Planet and beyond? Designed by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a four-limbed robot named LEMUR (Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot) can scale rock walls, gripping with hundreds of tiny fishhooks in each of its 16 fingers and using artificial intelligence (AI) to find its way around obstacles. In its last field test in Death Valley, California, in early 2019, LEMUR chose a route up a cliff while scanning the rock for ancient fossils from the sea that once filled the area. LEMUR was originally conceived as a repair robot for the International Space Station. Although the project has since concluded, it helped lead to a new generation of walking, climbing and crawling robots. In future missions to Mars or icy moons, robots with AI and climbing technology derived from LEMUR could aid in the search for similar signs of life. Those robots are being developed now, honing technology that may one day be part of future missions to distant worlds. Here are five in the works: A Mechanical Worm for ...

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