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Tensegrity Robot Project Covered in Popular Science and by Discovery Channel Canada
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Tensegrity Robot Project Covered in Popular Science and by Discovery Channel Canada

Popular Science released an article on the Intelligent Systems Division’s NASA Innovative Advanced Technology (NIAC) tensegrity robot project named “Super Ball Bot,” which is being developed in collaboration between the Intelligent Robotics Group and Robust Software Engineering. This article, titled, “This Weird Tumbleweed Robot Might Change Planetary Exploration - A Rolling Sphere of Rods and Cables Being Developed by NASA Takes a Lickin’ and Keeps on Tickin’,” discusses the origins of this concept and how tensegrity robots could be the future of planetary exploration.

Additionally, the Discovery Channel of Canada released an episode highlighting the tensegrity robot project on their Daily Planet program. Filming of the robot, collaborators, and interviews of Principal Investigators Vytas SunSpiral and Adrian Agogino were conducted at the Ames Roverscape, the Intelligent Robotics Lab, and the Software Engineering Lab. The video highlights progress in developing the robot, successful robot prototype testing, and the collaboration between UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz. This robot, which had only previously been tested indoors on smooth surfaces, successfully demonstrated mobility on the Roverscape. The robustness of the prototype robot was illustrated as it repeatedly survived being rolled down a large Roverscape crater and continued operating in the crater basin. These results showed a successful combination between software and hardware to produce a robust robotic platform.

BACKGROUND: Vytas SunSpiral and Adrian Agogino are Principal Investigators for a study from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) project “Super Ball Bot - Structures for Planetary Landing and Exploration.” The research covers robots made from “tensegrities” - structures that are composed of purely tensile (cables) and compressive (rods) components. Such robots could prove to be lightweight, strong, collapsable, energy efficient, and robust against high impacts and becoming immobile on rugged terrain. However, tensegrity control is difficult and poses formidable challenges. Solutions use a synergy of control technologies from both the Intelligent Robotics Group and the Robust Software Engineering Group to overcome these obstacles.

COLLABORATORS: UC Berkeley: Alice Agogino, Borna Dehghani, Kyunam Kim, Ian Krase, Deaho Moon, Andrew Sabelhaus, Laqshya Taneja, and Ali Toghyan. University of Idaho: David Atkinson

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD)

Contact: Vytas SunSpiral, Adrian Agogino

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