16 SERVO 10.2014
OH, THE TUMBLING
NASA wants to go to an asteroid. Super! Then
what? Exploration, of course, since that's what NASA
does. However, the microgravity environment is a
challenging one to get around in. There's likely not
enough gravity to use wheels or treads to drive
across an asteroid, and moving from place to place
using thrusters would be complicated and dangerous,
plus suck up a lot of fuel. So, what’s a potential
solution? Robotic tumbling cubes that can move by
themselves, of course!
What's new about these cubes is the application
to asteroids, and it actually makes a lot of sense. You
don't get the fine level of control with this sort of
jumping/tumbling motion that you'd get with a wheeled rover, but
you can generally get where you need to go.
There are lots of other advantages to this design. It's sealed
up with no external moving parts which ought to improve
reliability. It doesn't depend on expendable propellant, so with
some solar panels on it you'd be good to tumble around
indefinitely. Putting different instruments on different sides of the
cube gives you plenty of options for surface contact
measurements. You'd deploy a bunch of these things from a
mothership — which takes care of all the control,
communications, localization, and navigation stuff — allowing the
tumbling robots to be (relatively) cheap and simple.
Keep in mind the funding this project is getting from NASA
isn't for a deployable, space-ready system. It'll be enough to just
get the concept from TRL 2 to TRL 3. 5. TRLs are Technology
Readiness Levels — an actual government term that describes
how improbably crazy some experimental new technology is.
For something like this to make it into space on a mission, it
probably has to hit TRL 8.
BIRDS OF A DIFFERENT FEATHER
Flapping robotic drones disguised as birds of prey are acting as another form
of a futuristic farming device, thanks to a Dutch inventor and his flying machine.
The two models (made of a lightweight and rugged glass fiber nylon
composite) being developed might confuse birdwatchers from a distance as they
are designed to resemble a peregrine
falcon and a bald eagle.
The remote controlled/battery
powered invention — known as the
Robird — has been designed as a kind
of flying scarecrow to frighten real birds away from places like airports, farms,
and landfills where they cause a nuisance.
The man behind the new flying machine is 27 year old Nico Nijenhuis, who
became interested in robotic birds after asking his advisor for ideas when he
was trying to come up with a topic for his master’s thesis at the Technical
University of Twente in the east of Holland.