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NASA Fashions Mountain-Climbing Robot 65

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the release-the-robo-shirpa dept.
coondoggie writes "NASA researchers today said they had built and tested a robot that can rappel off cliffs, travel over steep and rocky terrain, and explore deep craters. The prototype rover, called Axel, might help future robotic spacecraft better explore and investigate foreign worlds such as Mars. On Earth, Axel might assist in search-and-rescue operations in locations where people might not be able to reach. Axel can operate upside down and right side up and uses only three motors: one to control each of its two wheels and a third to control a lever. The lever contains a scoop to gather lunar or planetary material for scientists to study, and it also adjusts the robot's two stereo cameras, which can tilt 360 degrees, NASA said."
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NASA Fashions Mountain-Climbing Robot

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  • Power Source? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JamJam (785046) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @01:52PM (#26740595)
    So what kind of power source is this robot likely to use? NASA's fav solar power isn't really well suited for climbing mountains. So are we going to have a bunch of nuclear powered mountain climbing robots wandering about? If you ask me maybe our best test bed would be Mars.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Zakabog (603757)

      "So what kind of power source is this robot likely to use?"

      Since it has to use an anchor point they could just make the tether carry electric with it, collect solar power at the anchor and send it to the "climber" through the tether.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gnick (1211984)

        TFA speculates that it "would make a natural combination with the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR) [slashdot.org]". (Although I think that was just a tie-in for the author to insert some copy-pasta, as combining the two robots seems like a pretty dumb idea to me... EATR is a radically different design and not nearly as mobile.)

        Still, it could make for some awkward situations if this thing is indeed used for search and rescue - better not give it AI. "Well, I found her, but my battery's low. I think that

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by von_rick (944421)
          You can give the robot ample AI, but make it a vegetarian. That way it'll hold the girl hostage until you send in some fresh broccoli instead of going munch, munch, munch on the damsel.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      IANANE (I Am Not A NASA Engineer) but, IMHO, it will be powered by using the tether as a power cord, using stationary rover's solar cells, who stays on the edge of the crater (not sure about mountains...), as in the image:
      http://www-robotics.jpl.nasa.gov/systems/systemImage.cfm?System=16&Image=414 [nasa.gov]

      Or maybe rechargeable batteries and periodical recharging from the main rover ?

      • Arghhh... ninja-ed by one minute...

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        If they're going to do this, I hope there's:

        a) A way to cut the tether from the rover
        b) The rover is much, much heavier than the climber

        Otherwise, we're bound to hear about how the Stallone Climbing Probe slipped and dragged a rover worth millions of dollars over the side of a cliff.

    • The article talks about the Axel having similarities to the University of Minnesota's Scout Rovers; after taking a boo on thier site, I can see the MegaScout works off a Lithium Polymar power source, and the other models of the Scout Rovers don't have the specific type of power sources listed, but I could only assume that it would be similar type of Lithium source. The other models do have their operation lengths listed, which could be anywhere from 20 minutes to 20 hours depending on the selected mode of o

    • MSL's going to be nuclear, but this rear-end-of-a-tricycle seems a bit small for that. And the potential of it falling off a cliff and going pop is probably slightly greater.
  • NASA link (Score:5, Informative)

    by gnick (1211984) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @01:53PM (#26740603) Homepage

    NASA's [nasa.gov] write-up with pics.

  • Axel can operate upside down and right side up...

    There is no such thing as "This side up" when you consider a robot that operates in either orientation. Considering there are 3 motors, it's safe to assume that it doesn't have a bilateral symmetry either.

  • Calls it a Timmy.

    Get PEOPLE on Mars already you assholes!

    • sexconker: Have you ever seen that movie "UHF" by Wierd Al Yankovic? Remember the scene where he walks in and says "Hi, I'm the new boss!" and the secretary screams at him? "OOOOOOOoh, It's kind of HARD to be PROMOTED when EVERY WEEK you have a new boss!".

      It feels a bit like being that secretary, to be working at NASA. Everyone thinks you can just "get people on mars already you assholes". Your budget is less than half of what's provided even to the federal highway administration [foofus.com] who doesn't even have to leave our comfortable atmosphere to do their jobs. Hell, our budget this year is 0.009 percent of the cost of the two "stimulus packages" for banks and mortgage companies. That budget also must be split among your multiple "missions" - Science, Exploration, Aeronautics, etc. (By the way, robots play an important part in all of the missions, and researching them is critical).

      Finally, you have not one boss but 500 or so, each of whom has different priorities for you and concerns that you spend your limited budget in THEIR district (not where it might be most appropriate) and EVERY 4 (or 8) years you have a new boss with a radically different direction for the 20-year program you're supposed to be completing. By the way, they can issue a memo and, poof, it's federal law now.

      Sorry for going on a tangent but it really irritates me, comments like yours. There's plenty of valid criticisms for NASA that you could be throwing together in this topic and you chose a simplistic, uninformed and insulting tantrum.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AMuse (121806)

        To follow up on my own comment (doh!) here is a link to a document detailing recommendations to the obama administration for NASA. [bakerinstitute.org].

        Right on schedule, a radical restructuring recommendation.

        I'm not commenting on the merits of this particular publication (could be great!!) but it certainly drives home the point I was making. It's hard to make progress on a 20 year program when your agency is radically "restructured" every 4 or 8 years.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by CraftyJack (1031736)
          I'd just like to add that money used to 'rescue' AIG ($85B) is enough to fund NASA for five years at its current budget ($17B). They found that $85B in one weekend.
      • It looks like you're the one throwing the tantrum.

        "Assholes" refers to the morons not properly funding NASA, as well as the morons allocating what funds there are toward any project that is not getting people to Mars.

        • by AMuse (121806)

          It looks like you're the one throwing the tantrum.

          "Assholes" refers to the morons not properly funding NASA, as well as the morons allocating what funds there are toward any project that is not getting people to Mars.

          To a great extent, NASA may not have the authority NOT to allocate funds to any given project. The worth of the project notwithstanding (robotics work is critical for getting research and exploration done) a good number of projects are congressionally-mandated.

          Here is one of many articles detailing the problem: http://www.allbusiness.com/government/elections-politics-politics-political-parties/10237821-1.html [allbusiness.com]

          • READ PLEASE.

            "Assholes" refers to the morons not properly funding NASA, as well as the morons allocating what funds there are toward any project that is not getting people to Mars.

            No where did I call anyone at NASA an asshole.
            If there are people at NASA who could change things and don't, then yes, they're assholes.

            You believe that the strings are pulled from where the money flows (and I agree). Those pulling the strings are the assholes.

            • by AMuse (121806)

              I appreciate your clarification, but surely you can see where I didn't read your initial comment that way? All it said was "get people to mars, assholes". Had you said "Fund NASA properly so they can get people to mars, assholes" I would've had a totally different read on yoru comment.

              • There's plenty of valid criticisms for my succinct post that you could be throwing together in this topic and you chose a messy, presumptuous, and insulting tantrum.

  • Next Plan (Score:3, Funny)

    by Van Cutter Romney (973766) <sriram.venkataramaniNO@SPAMgeemail.com> on Thursday February 05, 2009 @01:58PM (#26740723)
    Due to budget cuts and to save on fuel costs, Axel is designed to climb up Mt. Everest and blast off to outer space from there.
    • by dk90406 (797452)
      No ambition here. Get it to mars and let it tackle Olympus Mons.
      • Olympus Mons is nothing but an endurance test. Yes, it's very tall, but it's also really, REALLY wide. The average slope is only at something like a 5 degree angle. Interstate highways are allowed to be more steep than that.
      • by ruin20 (1242396)
        it would be funny to see it hanging off nose of Cydonia Mensae [wikipedia.org]
  • Is this robot named after Axel, the intrepid companion of his crackpot explorer uncle in Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth?
  • by Cathoderoytube (1088737) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @01:59PM (#26740755)
    NASA was originally working on a standard walking robot for use delivering coffee and snacks to NASA employees. However, when it took a bad spill down five flights of stairs and was discovered to be still largely operational it was re-purposed as a 'mountain climbing robot'.
  • by Zakabog (603757) <john@nosPAm.jmaug.com> on Thursday February 05, 2009 @01:59PM (#26740773)

    When I read

    "NASA researchers today said they had built and tested a robot that can rappel off cliffs, travel over steep and rocky terrain, and explore deep craters."

    I immediately thought "How does this robot know what a good anchor is?" and after watching the video I have the second question "How does the robot get it's tether detached from the anchor?" I had to read the article and watch the video, that's not a "mountain climbing robot", it's a winch with a motor.

    • My fonts are a little small and I'm kind of old. I thought it said, "rapes off cliffs". Thinking, all right, NASA has invented a deviant sex robot.
    • by Cally (10873)
      When I read it, I thought "Sounds a lot like CliffBot [spacedaily.com]. (lots more [google.co.uk])
    • by Naegling (1210378)

      I immediately thought "How does this robot know what a good anchor is?" and after watching the video I have the second question "How does the robot get it's tether detached from the anchor?"

      At this point we haven't worked on self-anchoring or detaching yet. Right now the idea is that it would be deployed from a larger rover/lander.

  • rappel? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by internerdj (1319281) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @02:01PM (#26740795)
    It looks like it is lowered down the cliff by a larger robot with a winch. That isn't really all that exciting, even if it can unhook itself at the bottom of the cliff, do a mission, find the rope again, and reattach itself.
    • by Naegling (1210378)
      There's no winch in the larger robot. Axel wraps the tether around itself. The means that there's less tether abrasion. Also, part of the point is to be able to collect samples from different layers of the rock on a cliff face. This is similar to CliffBot's intended purpose, but CliffBot is a more complicated design with a winch in another robot at the top.
  • That should be great for the explorations of earth volcanoes, and imagine for rescue missions in the most popular climbing locations.
  • NASA plans to send Axel to Beverly Hills from their Detroit R&D facility to provide it with an environment in which it will have to adapt to its surroundings while facing certain danger at every turn. It will likely interact with two other robots, including "Billy the TALON/SWORDS robot", inexplicably equipped with a grenade launcher.

  • Finally I have some place to put my Spokey Dokes. For those born too late to enjoy this fad: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spokey_Dokes [wikipedia.org]
  • I just ran a page search for the phrase "I for one..." and it wasn't there!

    I...I don't know where I am anymore...
  • I did not climb Olympus Mons. But at least my Robby did :)
  • FTA:

    On Earth, Axel might assist in search-and-rescue operations in locations where people might not be able to reach.

    Bollocks! It's a pair of wheels on a tether. It's not going to be any better than a human abseiling down a cliff face. It won't even be able to walk along ledges it encounters on the way down.

  • by Naegling (1210378) on Friday February 06, 2009 @01:38AM (#26748591)

    If you're interested in Axel, you should check out the Axel Homepage at Caltech [caltech.edu]. It has more information about the hardware, more movies, etc.

    Slashdot might also be interested to know that Axel currently runs a stripped down version of Debian.

    We are using lithium polymer batteries to power it right now. One of our current batteries will power Axel for about 20 minutes. With the current design we could easily fit two of these batteries inside, giving a running time of ~40 minutes.

    It's important to note that Axel wraps the tether around it's own body. There's no winch at the top, just an anchor point. That anchor point could be a larger rover/lander or just a rock.

  • Martian robots are just PR stunts. The real exploration is made by spectrometers and complex experiences from orbiters. What ? the rover has seen some water ? Woohoo ! The orbiter has a map of the ice-water layer and an estimation of its quantity. Call me obtuse, but what is the scientific interest in having a mountain-climbing robot apart from the funky pictures that NASA will flood the net with ? Personally I would be more interested in a tunnel-digging robot (the start for the future colony !) but well..
  • Here's a link to Nasa site about axel robot
    http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/podcasting/jpl-axel20090104.html [nasa.gov]

    It seems to me it will never climb steep up hill.

There is no distinction between any AI program and some existent game.

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