Concept art of Curiosity on Mars
With any luck, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity will land successfully in August and trundle off across the surface of the Red Planet. Headlines will laud the brave little robot travelling so far from home. But behind Curiosity, and its predecessors Spirit and Opportunity, is a team of human operators.
Over at Popular Science, Rebecca Boyle looks into the experiences of the rover drivers.
Scott Maxwell stared at his bedroom ceiling in the hours after his first drive, restless with excitement. All systems were go, and he’d sent the commands by the time he left the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Now he was supposed to sleep before his next shift on Mars time. But he knew that on the fourth planet from the sun, the Spirit rover’s wheels had started to move.
Robots can venture into areas too dangerous for humans, like unstable collapsed buildings and potentially radioactive power plants, but they won’t get very far without the ability to pick themselves up after getting knocked down. At the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems designs flying robots capable of self-recovery.
For the autonomous flying robot in the video, the key to surviving a crash is a light and flexible carbon fiber cage that protects its rotors and absorbs the energy from the collision. After a fall, carbon fiber legs automatically extend from the cage to push the ‘bot back into a standing position, from which it can take off once more.