NASA's Super Ball Bot in prototype form

NASA likes to pack light for extraterrestrial visits, so it has been developing a tensegrity rover -- a rod-based robot that uses cable tension to absorb blows and roll around, rather than a bulky chassis. Thanks to the agency's demo for IEEE Spectrum, we now know what a prototype of the explorer, Super Ball Bot, looks like in action. While it's not very graceful with only some of its motors working, the vehicle has little trouble getting across a room by squishing itself. The clever design should come in handy for a potential mission to Saturn's moon Titan. Since the robot collapses into a smaller shape, NASA could pack multiple units into one spacecraft and study more of the moon's surface. It also wouldn't require the usual airbags or parachutes to land; a Super Ball Bot could fall from more than 62 miles above Titan without taking damage. Any interplanetary expedition is still years away, but it's already evident that future rovers could bear little in common with their modern-day equivalents.

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