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NASA Space

NASA Could Explore Titan With Squishable 'Super Ball Bot' 59

An anonymous reader writes "IEEE Spectrum reports on a rover design being developed at NASA Ames Research Center: Super Ball Bot. The premise is that the rover's brain and scientific equipment would be suspended in the center of a structure made of rigid rods and elastic cables. The rods and cables would be deformable, allowing the rover to roll over complex terrain without damage. This design would be ideal for exploring a place like Saturn's moon Titan. Its atmosphere is thick enough that a probe could drop the rover from 100km above the surface, and it would survive the fall without a parachute. 'In a scenario studied by the team (PDF), the robot could be collapsed to a very compact configuration for launch. Once it reaches the moon, it would pop open and drop to the surface, flexing and absorbing the force of impact. By shortening and lengthening the cables that connect its rigid components, the ball bot could then roll about the surface. These same cables could be used to pull back parts of the robot, so that science instruments at the center could be exposed and used.'"

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NASA Could Explore Titan With Squishable 'Super Ball Bot'

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  • by 3seas ( 184403 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:26PM (#45798861) Homepage Journal

    They shoot the super ball at the target and it bounces back with the data.

    • They shoot the super ball at the target and it bounces back with the data.

      No, that could knock Titan out of orbit.

  • by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:29PM (#45798909) Homepage

    Anybody remember Sodaconstructor [sodaplay.com]?

    • If someone could remake that in 3d, and allow for multiplayer interactions and controllable bots, there is so much more potential in the concept.

  • "NASA Could Explode Titan With ..."

  • Why wouldn't they send a UAV or UUV to go swim around in the oceans? I figured that was what was really interesting on Titan because it could contain life.
    • Not sure how to power a UAV. At that distance solar power is very limited.

      • by tomhath ( 637240 )
        Just burn natural gas, it's every where on Titan. Oh wait...
      • by cusco ( 717999 )

        Internal combustion? Take along oxygen and you should be able to burn the atmosphere.
        A balloon wouldn't need any fuel, and there are designs to change buoyancy of the balloon so that it could descend to the surface and sample, and then re-ascend.

        • Thats a far better idea.

        • by dryeo ( 100693 )

          The atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and probably wouldn't burn. Might work for a boat though I hate to think about engineering an internal combustion engine to operate at those temperatures.

      • UAV -> Underwater Autonomous Vehicle
        • Or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. I assumed that was the meaning, as it's more common, and 'UUV' referred to a waterborne one.

    • Life in Titan's oceans??? ummm.. those oceans aren't water!

      • Ummm, no shit. But there is no rule that says all life has to be exactly like us, and thats why those methane oceans are interesting because they could harbor life that uses different building blocks.
        • This is in fact quite difficult. Sure in some sci fi story it works because you just arm wave all the details away. But when it really comes down to what can really work its more limited. First off methane is a poor universal solvent compared to water. This already makes things much more difficult. Second even the basic idea of a bi-lipid membrane doesn't even work in methane (its a non polar solvent). Its cold so reaction rates are low... etc....

          Different building blocks is even more difficult. The clas
    • Obvious answer is obvious. RTG. Provided we can get the material for it.
  • by RevWaldo ( 1186281 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:44PM (#45799073)
    ...followed by rolling, followed by rolling of the third type.

  • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:46PM (#45799091)

    NASA is extremely good at burning through gigabucks doing design studies, 99.9% of which are never built. This is just another one of those designs. I'll be impressed when I see it strapped to a rocket and sent up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      NASA is extremely good at burning through gigabucks doing design studies, 99.9% of which are never built.

      It turns out that if you make the things without the design studies, you end up wasting terabucks.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Want to talk about gigabucks

      in 2011, NASA had a smaller budget than the military air conditioning bill in Iraq/Afghanistan


  • by Smidge204 ( 605297 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:47PM (#45799103) Journal
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Elders tell of a young ball much like you. He bounced three metres in the air. Then he bounced 1.8 metres in the air. Then he bounced four metres in the air. Do I make myself clear?

  • be careful (Score:4, Funny)

    by albeit unknown ( 136964 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:55PM (#45799189)
    Caution: Super Ball Bot may suddenly accelerate to dangerous speeds. Super Ball Bot contains a liquid core, which, if exposed due to rupture, should not be touched, inhaled, or looked at. Discontinue use of Super Ball Bot if any of the following occurs: itching, vertigo, dizziness, tingling in extremities, loss of balance or coordination, slurred speech, temporary blindness, profuse sweating, or heart palpitations. If Super Ball Bot begins to smoke, get away immediately. Seek shelter and cover head. Do not taunt Super Ball Bot.
  • It moves more like a tumbleweed than a superball. And I remember seeing many tumbleweeds around Roswell, NM, come to think of it.
  • You know, I hate war and death and whatnot but some of the technology and equipment of the military gives me what I like to call a War Boner.

    This gives me a Science Boner. That's god damn cool, looks like something you'd read about in a science fiction book 20 years ago.

  • Hpw is it going to get to Titan in the first place? Do we have a rocket that can go that far these days?

    • >Do we have a rocket that can go that far these days?

      Certainly. The discovery of the "gravitational slingshot" Interplanetary Transport Network decades ago means we can get pretty much anywhere in the solar system with no more energy than it takes to escape the Earth, it just takes a while.

  • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @03:07PM (#45799327)

    Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

  • by spasm ( 79260 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @03:17PM (#45799451) Homepage

    "These same cables could be used to pull back parts of the robot, so that science instruments at the center could be exposed and used."

    Ok, for the first time ever a goat.sx reference would actually be appropriate.

  • Just from experience in moving spindly legs around rubble (camera tripod), I can see one potential issue the video doesn't make clear - the support struts can easily get wedged in rocks as they move around. Hopefully it can detect this before it bends a strut.

    • It looks to me like, unlike a tripod, the support struts all end in 3+ cables connecting to the ends of other struts. Pretty hard to get jammed in a crack when you've got a big spindly "foot" on the end of each rod.

      • Sure, but often the device twists in such a way that the various legs are nearly combined.

        Also I have had rocks turn over on splayed tripod legs, so the middle of the segments laying over rocky areas may not be safe.

        I'm just saying real-life rocks are a lot trickier and more treacherous than the Tron Cubes they have pitted it against thus far.

  • At some point, we will be able to proudly declare that Earth has bounced its balls off Uranus.
  • One rule of engineering success is less complexity, fewer moving parts.

    Another rule is redundancy.

    This project pits them against each other. Where a proposed solution meets contradictory design goals you discover either disaster or elegance.

    The greatest and most ancient tool employed by all self improving systems -- even life, neural networks, and science itself -- is to throw things against the wall and see if they stick. This ball bounces, plops, or rolls. I'll be interested to see if can stick, as natu

    • One rule of engineering success is less complexity, fewer moving parts.

      Curiosity's sky crane showed that's more of a guideline than a rule. I think these crazy contraptions are great. I bet NASA will figure it out if congress lets them...

  • They say in the video they could have dozens of them operating together. Did anybody else think of old TV shows, and prepare to panic?

    The Rover, "a floating white ball that could coerce, and, if necessary, disable inhabitants of The Village, primarily Number Six."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rover_(The_Prisoner) [wikipedia.org]

    If they come back to Earth like that old Venus probe, we're in trouble.
    http://bionic.wikia.com/wiki/Death_Probe [wikia.com]
    (Yeah, I remember these episodes of the Six Million Dollar Man from when they came out

  • ...is the actual name of a leading researcher in this area. He gave a rather fascinating Google TechTalk [youtube.com] a few weeks ago. Well worth the time.

If you can count your money, you don't have a billion dollars. -- J. Paul Getty