The contraptions are the work of a team led by Aliakbar Aghamohammadi, a robotics research technologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Their primary goal of the robots is to be able to function on bodies with atmospheres and on various terrains.
FAR comprises so-called cobots, a series of smal robotic units linked together. Depending on the environment in need of studying, the robots could rearrange themselves to into different mobility modes.
Each cobot consists only of a few propellers acting as actuators. This would allow them to change into a ball for rolling on flat surfaces, into a flying machine for exploration of the atmosphere and even into a torpedo-shaped gizmo capable of under-liquid research.
But that’s only scratching the surface, as the shapeshifters could be even made to transport large and heavy objects, make themselves into communication networks and so on.
NASA will fund research into shapeshifting robots, together with the other projects selected for this year’s NIAC, for the following nine months. The ideas are still in concept stages, and only projects that will prove worthy would advance into stage two of the program.
"The concepts can then be evaluated for potential inclusion into our early stage technology portfolio," said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate.
"The NIAC program gives NASA the opportunity to explore visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions by creating radically better or entirely new concepts while engaging America's innovators and entrepreneurs as partners in the journey."