Mars Rovers of the Future?

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My “Mars Rover.” Hey, I’m no artist…

Since conquering the moon in the early 70’s, we’ve since set our sights further out into the universe. Our primary focus in the last couple decades has been exploring Mars and the potential for discovering water. To aid in our research, scientist have created many robots that allow us to remotely collect samples and learn about the red planet without sending actual human beings. Scientists could (and have) taken a page from the biomechanics of nature in creating this robots.

So how exactly can we mimic nature in order to further our knowledge of Mars (and potentially other planets in the future)? I propose a robot incorporating the various aspects of biomechanics we have studied in this week’s module: primarily digging, walking, jumping, and possibly flying.

As of this posting, NASA has utilized four Mars rovers in their endeavors: Sojourner (inactive), Opportunity, Spirit (inactive), and Curiosity. (1) These high-tech robots must successfully navigate the rocky, foreign terrain of Mars. This means keeping the rover well-balanced and generally allowing it to navigate far and wide without impediments. This, I believe, is where biomechanics come into play. By incorporating some of the unique ways insects move, maybe we could in the future create a more efficient Mars Rover. Let’s break it down according to some of the characteristics I believe are most crucial:

Walking/Running: As learned in this week’s lesson on biomechanics and robotics, insects are statically stable thanks to their six legs which provide a sort of stability along with a mechanism for movement. One of the insects discussed was the cockroach, which is able to scurry very quickly and stably and, as seen in a Module 1 during Robert Full’s TED talk, is able to traverse rough terrain without losing a step. Also inspired by cockroach movement is the robot RHex, which is capable of navigating very rough terrain and has been suggested for use on Mars missions as well. Attempting to implement these mechanics into future rovers is critical.

Digging: Another critical addition in my opinion, is an insect like ability to burrow and dig. Insects such as the mole cricket have specially adapted limbs for this. This allows us to take soil samples and further our quest to discover water and prove that life once existed on the red marble. While very little is currently understood about the mechanics behind this, I believe it is well worth the time and effort to research and implement this in the future.

 

                                                                          

Jumping: Another wonder of biomechanics I could see proving useful in this robot would be the ability to jump akin to the way a grasshopper does so. By storing up energy and then releasing it via muscular contractions in its powerful hindlegs, grasshoppers are able to jump great distances. The ability of a mars rover to jump over rougher terrain that might not be as easily walked across could prove invaluable.


So, is this idea of mine reasonable whatsoever? I think so. Implementing these aspects of insect biomechanics seems like a worthy pursuit. However, there could be some potential drawbacks. As mentioned by another student in IB 411, cost could be an issue. Furthermore, it could take quite some time to develop adequate machinery to replicate the biomechanics seen in a previous blog post. This in itself could cost a lot of money. At least for the time being, it seems NASA might be better off sticking with their current tried and true version of Mars rovers.

Sources:

(1) Mars Rover http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_rover

(2) http://mars.nasa.gov/msl/mission/rover/

(3) http://marsrover.nasa.gov/mission/tl_surface_nav.html

(4) IB 411 Course Blackboard Site, M. Alleyne

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