Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

NASA Could Explore Titan With Squishable 'Super Ball Bot'

Soulskill posted about 9 months ago | from the totally-serious-names dept.

NASA 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.'"

cancel ×

59 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

So let me guess. (2)

3seas (184403) | about 9 months ago | (#45798861)

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

Re:So let me guess. (1)

Savage-Rabbit (308260) | about 9 months ago | (#45798951)

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

No, that could knock Titan out of orbit.

I built them already (2)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 9 months ago | (#45798909)

Anybody remember Sodaconstructor [sodaplay.com] ?

Re:I built them already (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 9 months ago | (#45799219)

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

Am I the only who saw... (1)

Nutria (679911) | about 9 months ago | (#45799027)

"NASA Could Explode Titan With ..."

Re:Am I the only who saw... (3, Funny)

Wintermute__ (22920) | about 9 months ago | (#45799429)

DO NOT TAUNT the Super Ball Bot

I thought the methane ocean was of interest? (1)

gargeug (1712454) | about 9 months ago | (#45799037)

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.

Re:I thought the methane ocean was of interest? (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 9 months ago | (#45799303)

Not sure how to power a UAV. At that distance solar power is very limited.

Re:I thought the methane ocean was of interest? (2)

tomhath (637240) | about 9 months ago | (#45799455)

Just burn natural gas, it's every where on Titan. Oh wait...

Re:I thought the methane ocean was of interest? (1)

cusco (717999) | about 9 months ago | (#45799569)

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.

Re:I thought the methane ocean was of interest? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 9 months ago | (#45801559)

Thats a far better idea.

Re:I thought the methane ocean was of interest? (1)

dryeo (100693) | about 9 months ago | (#45806555)

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.

Re:I thought the methane ocean was of interest? (1)

gargeug (1712454) | about 9 months ago | (#45801449)

UAV -> Underwater Autonomous Vehicle

Re:I thought the methane ocean was of interest? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 9 months ago | (#45803939)

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

Re:I thought the methane ocean was of interest? (2)

morgauxo (974071) | about 9 months ago | (#45800285)

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

Re:I thought the methane ocean was of interest? (2)

gargeug (1712454) | about 9 months ago | (#45801475)

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.

Re:I thought the methane ocean was of interest? (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | about 9 months ago | (#45804319)

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 classic argument is something based of silicon. If you have silicon you have carbon and carbon can just form so many more stable compounds that anything else, and vastly more than silicon. Life as we know it uses most of the periodic table. The is a really good argument to be made that life will be chemically similar to us. (ie water is the solvent, things based around carbon, some sort of information store like DNA).

Re:I thought the methane ocean was of interest? (1)

Gareth Iwan Fairclough (2831535) | about 9 months ago | (#45801479)

Obvious answer is obvious. RTG. Provided we can get the material for it.

NASA demands bouncing... (2)

RevWaldo (1186281) | about 9 months ago | (#45799073)

...followed by rolling, followed by rolling of the third type.

.

Re:NASA demands bouncing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45799351)

These balls are making me testy.

Best. Line. Ever.

Wake me up when it's actually built (2)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | about 9 months ago | (#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:Wake me up when it's actually built (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45799561)

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:Wake me up when it's actually built (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45799751)

Want to talk about gigabucks

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

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/25/137414737/among-the-costs-of-war-20b-in-air-conditioning

Re:Wake me up when it's actually built (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45801425)

But employed 10 times fewer people.

Re:Wake me up when it's actually built (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45801863)

They also weren't invading countries and killing people.

true... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45806213)

...but you can't have everything...

"..and besides..." (3, Funny)

Smidge204 (605297) | about 9 months ago | (#45799103)

Re:"..and besides..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45799505)

Boy am I glad you signed your post, otherwise I would have thought that between logging in and pressing "submit" someone broke into your house, bound you up and used your account to comment.

Wait a minute... What happened to the 203 other Smidges? Why didn't you sign Smidge204?

Re:"..and besides..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45800023)

There can be only one!

Those titanians wont know what hit them... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45799141)

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?

I don't understand (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45799175)

Why not send one brain thingy that orbits Titan and another wheel thingy that does the roving?

Re:I don't understand (2)

Immerman (2627577) | about 9 months ago | (#45800363)

A few reasons spring to mind:

* Especially with a "messy" mobility system like this, reaction times matter. Granted, when directly overhead 100km only adds about a millisecond of minimum additional round-trip lightspeed lag, but most of the time your satellite will be considerably further away.

* your satellite is in orbit - meaning around 1/2 to 3/4 of the time the planet is between you and your brain, more if you're in a valley. Better hope you're not in a perilous situation when the cord gets cut, and you'll only have a few hours at a time of "brain link" at a time. You could extend that by orbitting higher, but that means longer "braindead" periods as well, and greater lag.

* bandwidth - you're navigating via computer vision system, and a live video stream is about as bandwidth-intensive as you can get. And more surface-to-orbit bandwidth comes with very definite power costs.

* and finally - What's the benefit? The brain is a solid-state system, and thus pretty much impervious to anything that doesn't damage the mechanical components. Moreover, offloading the the brain to an orbiter doesn't eliminate the need for a brain in the rover - it'll be a much simpler brain if all it's doing is passing data back and forth, but if it has enough horsepower to handle the real-time video compression you'd almost certainly want, it's probably got more than enough horsepower to actually run the rover directly.

be careful (4, Funny)

albeit unknown (136964) | about 9 months ago | (#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.

Titan will welcome new NASA Tumbleweed Overlords (1)

retroworks (652802) | about 9 months ago | (#45799217)

It moves more like a tumbleweed than a superball. And I remember seeing many tumbleweeds around Roswell, NM, come to think of it.

Science Boner. (1)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | about 9 months ago | (#45799245)

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.

Re:Science Boner. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45803427)

Military technology and engineering has always been out paced civilian technology. If you are involved in war and people are coming to kill you there is no such thing as a budget. As adversaries are always trying to counter the technology your adversaries develop. In the modern age the advancements made by all sides during WW2 illustrates how far and fast technology can be developed when prioritized over everything else. The US program to go to the moon also advanced and leveraged the US ICBM missile development giving the US temporary dominance over the Soviets in that era. Military avionic, satellite, HMI, and computer technology advancements also filters down to the civilian market.

Obligatory Zap Brannigan (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45799269)

Those balls have got a lot of ... uh ... hutzpah.

Just wondering (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 9 months ago | (#45799277)

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

Re:Just wondering (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45799447)

We can send things outside the solar system, for any reasonable definition of "outside the solar system." I'm sure we can get one to fall into a moon part of the way out.

Re:Just wondering (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about 9 months ago | (#45799527)

We can send things outside the solar system, for any reasonable definition of "outside the solar system." I'm sure we can get one to fall into a moon part of the way out.

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

The stuff sent out of the solar system was sent in the 70's -- a lot has changed at JPL/NASA since then.

Even the stuff last sent to Titan was sent before the dot com bubble burst, wasn't it? It just took a while to get there.

Of course, if this thing is in the planning stages, it'll be 2020 before it is "ready to roll" at which point who knows if we'll have a rocket capable of sending something to Titan again....

Re:Just wondering (1)

radarskiy (2874255) | about 9 months ago | (#45802671)

New Horizons was launched in 2006. If an Atlas V can launch one of the fastest things ever, why do you think it could not get something to Titan?

Re:Just wondering (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45799501)

SpaceX

Re:Just wondering (2)

Immerman (2627577) | about 9 months ago | (#45800437)

>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.

HFB (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 9 months ago | (#45799327)

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Exposed? (2)

spasm (79260) | about 9 months ago | (#45799451)

"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.

Potential problem not obvious in video (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 9 months ago | (#45799625)

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.

Re:Potential problem not obvious in video (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 9 months ago | (#45800465)

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.

Re:Potential problem not obvious in video (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 9 months ago | (#45801247)

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.

Titan for now, but think of the possibilities (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 9 months ago | (#45799641)

At some point, we will be able to proudly declare that Earth has bounced its balls off Uranus.

A risky endevor. (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 9 months ago | (#45799869)

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 nature's ameobic design has before.

Titan is a volatile rich, chemically active moon with a complex methane cycle. Dunes, craters, fluvial valleys, and lake shores are among the primary target sites for future Titan missions. While a tensegrity platform can potentially be used on all these sites, here we focus on lake shores since they provide a high scientific return do to the interaction between a liquid and solid surface, and the atmosphere.

Hmm. Well, then you're going to need to a covering then otherwise the bot will just be a collection of sticks in the mud. I have no doubt their genetic algorithms will emerge movement strategies; However, I noticed that all the test cases and simulations show hard surfaces. Strange if you consider the composition of the dunes and shores you're targeting. Perhaps just deploying a bunch and hoping that at least one doesn't get stuck shortly after landing is enough redundancy? I'm not so sure myself.

Amoebas have semi-permeable coverings. A covering would mean that exposing the instruments would be a complicated process prone to failure, and filling up with material. Perhaps if in a starburst configuration each instrument could use a rod as a guide? Ah, but that's not the design proposed.

Re:A risky endevor. (1)

CaptainLard (1902452) | about 9 months ago | (#45800599)

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...

"I am not a number!" The Rover rover is coming! (1)

Accordion Noir (1256202) | about 9 months ago | (#45799911)

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. I strongly suspect they were not as good as the Prisoner.)

Re:"I am not a number!" The Rover rover is coming! (1)

wcrowe (94389) | about 9 months ago | (#45800335)

That is PRECISELY the first thing I thought of, and you beat me to the post. Man, that show freaked me out the first time I saw it, when I was a kid.

Re:"I am not a number!" The Rover rover is coming! (1)

RevSpaminator (1419557) | about 9 months ago | (#45800505)

"We want information...information."

Re:"I am not a number!" The Rover rover is coming! (1)

richlv (778496) | about 9 months ago | (#45801383)

actually, that show was transported back in time. it was shot on titan

tumbleweeds (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45801697)

so... tumbleweeds are secretly sending data about us back to their alien overlords?

Vytas SunSpiral (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 9 months ago | (#45804517)

...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.

Infornmative Sci-Fi links... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45806291)

Read Porges' short story "The Ruum".

It tells the story of an alien robot using this kind of movement technology left to gather specimens in the age of the dinosaurs.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ruum [wikipedia.org]

http://mrcampbellrocks.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/The-Ruum-by-Arthur-Porges-Full-Text.pdf [mrcampbellrocks.com]

Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>