NASA's Flying, Swimming, Rolling Drone
|Source: NASA/CalTech Concept|
Drone of Drones
NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab at Caltech has just introduced the drone of drones. Right now, it separates into two different units: two shapes to explore new distant worlds and new habitats. It's a prototype and is made of several small, quadcopter drones calls cobots. The cobots have propellers and fly independently and the system reassembles to roll on the ground. The future for the concept is much bigger. The Shapeshifter would be made up of a number of small robots that can easily self-assemble into larger robots and disassemble as the mission requires, particularly in space. The mini-robots will be able to fly, roll, float and swim and then morph into a single machine.
On the ground, the cobots come together to form a roller-wheel like drone to explore the ground in places in space like Titan, where there is very limited information about the surface. That unpredictability of the surface makes versatility and shapeshifting essential in the drone. In the future, the plan is to make the cobots work together as a team of twelve to explore caves, underwater areas and various types of terrain, including in outer space. The ultimate morphing robot team would be carried aboard a mothership lander that would house their energy source and scientific instrumentation for testing and analysis.
This extraordinary technology will take quite a few years to fully develop. But a target for it is 2026 when NASA's Dragonfly drone takes off for Titan with possibly the Shapeshifter onboard. The Shapeshifter is a transformational vehicle to explore, treacherous, distant worlds.