SOIL BURIES ROVER
Last time the Spirit rover was in danger on Mars, it was NASA’s fault. This time,
however, it’s something even worse than an inefficient, overburdened, and
underfunded bureaucracy: loose soil. With only five functional wheels, Spirit has
sunk up to its axles, and will likely not move for weeks as engineers try to decide
what to do. Having operated on Mars for 1,800 days (Martian days), Spirit has
outlived its original mission plan by a factor of twenty. It certainly deserves a more
dramatic end than getting stuck in the mud.
"Spirit is in a very difficult situation. We are proceeding methodically and
cautiously," JPL's John Callas, project manager for Spirit and its twin rover,
According to NASA, a team of engineers and scientists have temporarily suspended driving Spirit while assessing ways to
free the rover. They are planning simulation tests using a test rover.
"It may be weeks before we try moving Spirit again. Meanwhile, we are using Spirit's scientific instruments to learn more
about the physical properties of the soil that is giving us trouble," Callas said.
Five wheels that are still functioning on the six-wheel rover are sunk about halfway into the ground, rendering Spirit
immobile. The sixth wheel actually stopped working about three years ago.
IN THE HOPPER ...
When Boston Dynamics (
http://bostondynamics.com) updated their website a while back,
there was a blurb about some kind of hopping robot that they were working on.
Apparently, the robot’s primary method of movement is a set of four wheels. If it encounters
an obstacle, the robot deploys a piston that can launch it up to 25 feet in the air, 30 times over.
The hop height is controllable even if the robot is launching itself from different types of surfaces,
and Boston Dynamics is working on ways to keep the robot stabilized while “in flight” to limit
tumbling when it hits the ground. Funded by DARPA, the delivery date for the hopper is
sometime in 2010. It will be used primarily for surveillance, but DARPA wants the option to mount
weapons on it, too. (Big surprise there.)
GREETINGS FROM iDROIDOPIA
Artificial Life, Inc. (
www.artificial-life.com) has this
really cool game for the iPhone and iPod touch
platforms. It’s called iDroids and it’s a high quality, fun to play
side scrolling game in which players are introduced to the
fantasy world of little robots living in iDroidOpia and HAXX
— an iDroid and
rural robot farmer
when HAXX's entire
family is abducted
and he has to follow
the trail of his
kidnapped wife and children while fighting, swinging, and
fueling through Socket City, where peril is behind every turn!
For more details about iDroids, go to
There’s a lite version of the game available for FREE download at
woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=314790220&mt = 8.
In other Boston Dynamics
news, their latest climber
(developed in partnership with
UPenn) trades six legs for four
legs and, thanks to some new
brushless motors mounted on a
new type of leg, can scramble up
vertical surfaces at close to a
foot per second.
It does a kind of scramble
instead of a climb and only
supports its entire weight on two
limbs for brief periods. They’re
trying to get the robot optimized
to run along the ground, too. The
benefits here are obvious: legged,
clawed robots would have the ability to move rapidly
over uneven surfaces, scale walls and buildings,
and basically be able to track you down and spy
on you anywhere.