Scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology have developed the frogbot, a small hopping robot that moves by a combination of rolls and hops to its desired destination.
The frogbot weighs 1.3 kilograms and is powered by a single motor. It is equipped with a camera, solar panels, sensors and onboard computer that executes commands autonomously, making the robot ideally suitable for exploration of distant planets, comets and asteroids.
‘Hopping is a more efficient form of transportation in low-gravity environments,’ said Dr. Paolo Fiorini, an engineer in the robotics group at JPL.
Engineers believe that in low-gravity environments, such as small planets, and in micro-gravity environments, such as asteroids, wheels successfully used on rovers may not be the most efficient form of locomotion.
The frogbot has shown better mobility than rovers have on certain terrain. It can be developed to reach canyon walls and other remote areas, be manufactured at a lower cost and multiple numbers of the device can be released onto a planet’s surface to cover large distances and communicate with each other. One frogbot could be lost without hindering the whole network.
The hopping robot technology will be ready in about three to five years and could help scientists capture images and collect ground samples. One of the major challenges facing engineers is precision navigation necessary to control the hopping robot.
Engineers are also developing a hopper that adheres and climbs vertical walls and are testing prototypes on different terrains.