NASA Wants to Bring “Soft Robots” for Space Exploration

Robotics

Two interns at NASA are now planning to include soft robots in the agency's future space explorations / Photo by: NASA via Wikimedia Commons

 

Even as interns, Chuck Sullivan and Jack Fitzpatrick have visions to bring soft robots into space in the name of space exploration. According to Space.com, the two interns want to bring these robots into space as an alternative to standard probes that have already been sent into space.

 

The exploration plans to also give these soft robots a chance to fly to the moon, one of NASA’s “next major destination for astronauts”. This might mean we can mount another mission to the moon, but at this point, soft robots will be sent first.

 

S,  why a soft robot, you ask? According to the interns who are currently working at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia, the idea of a soft robot in space is to see if its softer exterior will be better equipped with dealing the different environment of space and the moon. Because soft robots are flexible, they have access to a wider range of motion, which can help scientists program it to move slightly better on the surface of the moon.

 

"When you actuate the soft robot, it changes how you use the material properties," Fitzpatrick said in a statement. "A piece of rubber going from flat to the shape of a finger, it changes the material into something else."

 

This does present the challenge of accounting for the different atmosphere of the moon’s surface, though, but that’s pretty much expected.

 

At this point, the plans are still in their relative infancy, thus, no exact part of the design can be greenlighted for space travel. However, Sullivan and Fitzpatrick are positive that their idea could be beneficial for future space travel, and have thus modeled through 3D printing what the robot might look like.

 

They used silicone for now, but are open to using other materials in the future.

 

The inflation system is what the two researchers are working on for now, using air bladders which allow them to “control the movement of the robot.” This can also allow them to adjust the amount of air to allow the robot to “flex and relax, just like a human muscle.”