Squishy Tensegrity Robots Were Meant for Mars and Other Alien Worlds, Now They Serve Us

Whenever the term "robot” pops up in a discussion, we tend to imagine either some sort of humanoid machine, or an industrial tool meant for the assembly lines. Occasionally, we might even think about Boston Dynamics' Spot. But one almost never imagines a round skeleton made of rods and elastic cables.
Squishy Robotics... squishy robots 6 photos
Photo: Squishy Robotics
Squishy Robotics... squishy robotsSquishy Robotics... squishy robotsSquishy Robotics... squishy robotsSquishy Robotics... squishy robotsSquishy Robotics... squishy robots
Yet that's exactly what the Squishy robots look like. They're the work of a company called, how else, Squishy Robotics, and they were initially envisioned as tools for space exploration. Only they are, for now, used for more earthly dealings.

These machines do not have a name of their own yet, but their capabilities more than make up for that shortcoming. Imagined by Dr. Alice Agogino, the founder of Squishy Robotics, they are simple, extremely useful, and almost indestructible.

These things were initially devised as means to deliver sensors and other data collecting tools to alien worlds. They were supposed to be dropped from high altitudes (up to 1,000 feet/300 meters) onto the surface of planets, and reach their destination without the help of parachutes or other such systems, surviving the drop and subsequent impact on their own.

The idea behind the robots is very simple. The skeletal bodies of the robots are designed as a tension network, with a mesh of carbon fiber rods and elastic fibers distributing the force of an impact and reducing its effects. That's an approach called tensegrity, which is a combination of the terms tensile and integrity.

"With tensegrity robots, the robot itself is the landing device," said Terry Fong, NASA chief roboticist at the Ames Research Center. "It could survive a fall from very high up and keep going."

Suspended inside this flimsy-looking body a series of sensors and other tools can be installed, protected from harm by the exterior skeleton.

All of the above, but also the fact this design allows for the robot to collapse onto itself for easier transport, made NASA confident enough to invest half a million dollars into the idea back in 2014. Sadly, until now this tech has not been used for space exploration purposes.

Luckily, it is used for human dealings right here on our own planet, because Squishy Robotics is offering the solution for use by emergency services in fires, crashes, and other disasters, but also for research purposes in remote areas of the planet. Even the military seems to be taking an interest in these things.

NASA has not given up on the idea of using these robots for space exploration purposes. The agency is still working on a variant of the tech that can roll and jump after landing, to avoid obstacles and move in a more appropriate position for whatever mission is to be completed. An option of using gas thrusters to ensure mobility for the robots is also being considered.

If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram Twitter
About the author: Daniel Patrascu
Daniel Patrascu profile photo

Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories