Read up on the current state of robotics today and you’re likely to see an image of something that resembles a living being, at least in shorthand. Dog-like robots are getting the ability to speak; humanoid robots can do complex flips that would make a parkour practitioner blush. But those aren’t the only advanced forms of technology that take their cues from the animal kingdom. NASA is developing a robot with a design that evokes snakes — and while it might not be doing a triple axel any time soon, its design could pay off in a big way when exploring space.
A recent announcement from NASA shared the news that the robot in question was being put through its paces at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The robot is known as Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor — or EELS for short. The goal behind EELS? Create a robot capable of exploring terrain that might be harder to get to for vehicles with wheels, treads or legs — ranging from caves and tunnels to oceans on distant moons.
Matthew Robinson, the project manager for EELS, spoke of the robot’s versatility. “It has the capability to go to locations where other robots can’t go,” Robinson said in a statement. “Though some robots are better at one particular type of terrain or other, the idea for EELS is the ability to do it all.”
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Development of EELS began in 2019, and the team working on the 13-foot-long robot has been testing it in various environments ever since. Eventually, the team’s goal is to integrate EELS with other instruments for the purposes of gathering data. What’s less clear is when EELS might actually journey into space; Space.com’s article on the robot suggests it might not be deployed until the 2050s. As for what other advances EELS might inspire, that remains to be seen.
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