NASA plans to use these spiky, hedgehog-style robots to explore asteroids

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Sep 9, 2015

Another planet, or the surface of an asteroid, is obviously a different type of landscape when compared to good ol’ Earth. To get around out there, NASA is now looking for a very different vehicle design.

Sure, a rover works on a planet like Mars fairly well, but somewhere with rockier terrain and lower gravity, you need a new design. Enter the Hedgehog project. This nifty little concept out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is essentially a cube with spikes that moves by spinning and braking internal flywheels. The spikes protect the robot's body from the terrain and act as “feet” while hopping and tumbling. It can also perform a sweet, Sonic-style spin move.

Here’s how Issa Nesnas, leader of the JPL team, describes the project:

“Hedgehog is a different kind of robot that would hop and tumble on the surface instead of rolling on wheels. It is shaped like a cube and can operate no matter which side it lands on. The spikes could also house instruments such as thermal probes to take the temperature of the surface as the robot tumbles.”

There are two different protypes, though both feature similar capabilities to bounce around on asteroids. NASA notes the JPL Hedgehog prototype has eight spikes and three flywheels and weighs approximately 11 pounds. That’s pretty light, so the research team plans to potentially add another 9 pounds with instruments (i.e. cameras and spectrometers). A second prototype was made at Stanford and is a bit smaller and lighter, with shorter spikes.

The best part? Hedgehogs should be much cheaper to produce than a traditional rover, so the concept fits nicely in NASA’s tighter budget.

Check out the Hedgehog robots in action below and let us know what you think:


(Via NASA)