A small quadrupedal robot named ‘SpaceBok’ is set to be the first powered machine to walk across the surface of Mars.
Other rovers on the Red Planet, such as NASA‘s Perseverance and Curiosity, sport gigantic wheels that limit where they can travel.
However, SpaceBok’s four legs will allow it to climb over rough terrain and possibly search for signs of life that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
The robot was initially developed to trek across the moon and was programmed to leap instead of walk, but SpaceBok’s makers have redesigned it to take on Mars.
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A small quadrupedal robot named ‘SpaceBok’ will be the first powered machine to walk across the surface of Mars
It is not clear when SpaceBok will venture to Mars, but DailyMail.com has contacted the researchers for more information.
SpaceBok is the brainchild of team of scientists from ETH Zurich in Switzerland and the Max Planck Institute in Germany, who designed it in 2018 to mimic movements of a springbok antelope.
It now seems the team is looking farther into space and has modified the robot’s legs and gaits to help it withstand more treacherous landscapes, Wired reports.
The modifications have eliminated SpaceBok’s springy step, which has been replaced with stable movements of each leg.
ETH Zurich roboticist Hendrik Kolvenbach told Wired: ‘We wanted to show that these dynamically working systems nowadays, they can actually walk on the Martian sand.
SpaceBok’s four legs will allow it to climb over rough terrain and search for signs of life that may have otherwise gone unnoticed
SpaceBok was recently tested in a large sandbox-like arena filled with rocks that simulated Mars soil. The robot was tested with different gaits, along with small hoof-like feet and flat, round feet with cleats for more stability
‘This is a technology that has a lot of potential now for the future.’
SpaceBok was recently tested in a large sandbox-like arena inside a lab setting that was filled with rocks that simulated Mars soil.
The robot was tested with different gaits, along with small hoof-like feet and flat, round feet with cleats for more stability.
Both designs enabled SpaceBok to keep a stable footing on a 25-degree incline. s
Researchers also fitted SpaceBok with an algorithm that monitors its energy usage, determining the most efficient path to take depending on how much power the robot has.
For example, while traveling uphill on the simulated Mars soil, the robot began to zig-zag as it climbed, instead of walking on a straight path – this would have required more energy than SpaceBok had at the time.
SpaceBok has an algorithm that monitors energy usage, which determines the most efficient path to take depending on how much power the robot has.
NASA’s Perseverance (pictured is the rover and the Ingenuity helicopter) and Curiosity rovers, along with China’s Zhurong rover are all currently exploring Mars
In their paper, published on preprint server arXiv, the researchers demonstrated that SpaceBok is capable of climbing a simulated Martian incline without falling over, as such an event would put an end to the entire mission.
Using legs instead of wheels may have avoided Opportunity’s almost fatal mishap in 2006 when it became stuck in thee sand for five weeks.
The potentially worst situation occurred in 2009 when NASA’s Spirit rover got stuck in an aeolian sand deposit and was unable to recover, which ultimately terminated the mission.
According to the study, these experiments present new methods for ‘safe and energy-efficient global path-planning strategies for accessing steep topography on Mars.’
NASA’s Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, along with China’s Zhurong rover, are all currently exploring Mars.
However, the three vehicles boast massive wheels as means to get around the dusty landscape, which limit their ability to investigate certain regions and are unable to travel easily over obstacles.
Legged robots might not replace wheeled robots in space,’ says Nygard, ‘but they could definitely bring a valuable contribution and take an important role in the team.’