NASA’s Snake-Like Robot to Search Life on Saturn Moon:
NASA is currently in the process of developing a robot with a snake-like design, known as the EELS (Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor), which is intended to explore the surface vents of Saturn’s moon Enceladus in search of underground water. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at NASA is spearheading this project, aiming to create a robot capable of autonomously mapping, navigating, and investigating locations that are inaccessible on Earth, as well as other celestial bodies within our solar system.
The initial prototype of the EELS robot created by JPL teams in 2019 and has since undergone multiple iterations. In 2022, the hardware and software of the robot underwent modifications, and extensive field tests have been conduct.
To fulfill its mission, the EELS robot utilizes eight stereo cameras and lidar technology to construct a 3D map of its surroundings. This sensor data then processed by navigation algorithms to determine the safest route for the robot. The engineers working on the project are developing a diverse range of motion capabilities for the robot, creating a library of maneuvers that enable it to adapt to various terrains. One example of such a maneuver is the “banana” motion, which involves a sidewinding rotation. In its final configuration, the EELS robot expected to incorporate 48 actuators, or miniature motors. While this provides the robot with considerable flexibility, it also poses challenges for the hardware and software teams.
According to Thakur, one of the engineers involved in the project, these 48 actuators can be like to “48 steering wheels.” Many of these actuators will be equip with built-in force-torque sensing, allowing the EELS robot to perceive the amount of force applied to its environment, similar to the function of a thin layer of skin.