“Imagine a car driving autonomously, but there are no stop signs, no traffic signals, not even any roads. The robot has to figure out what the road is and try to follow it. Then it needs to go down a 100-foot drop and not fall.” –Rohan Thakker
Where do you take a prototype robot designed to explore the vents of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus…a ski resort of course! A team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory took their new Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS Robot) to the slopes of a southern California where they put together a “robot playground” to give it whirl in the snow. Not sure if this technology could be employed in the ski industry but its always neat to see new ways of navigating snow. To read more about the EELS project GO HERE:
A team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is creating and testing a snake-like robot called EELS (Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor). Inspired by a desire to descend vents on Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus and enter the subsurface ocean, this versatile robot is being developed to autonomously map, traverse, and explore previously inaccessible destinations on Earth, the Moon, and other worlds in our solar system.
The robot has been put to the test in sandy, snowy, and icy environments, including the Mars-like terrain at JPL’s Mars Yard, a “robot playground” created at a ski resort in the snowy mountains of Southern California, and even an indoor ice rink.
Because of the long communications lag time between Earth and deep space, EELS is designed to autonomously sense its environment, calculate risk, travel, and gather data with yet-to-be-determined science instruments. When something goes wrong, the goal is for the robot to recover on its own, without human assistance.
The project team began building the first prototype in 2019, and has been making continual revisions. They’ve been trying out white, 3D-printed plastic screws for testing on looser terrain like sand and soft snow, as well as sharper, black metal screws for ice. In its current form, the EELS 1.0 robot weighs about 220 pounds (100 kilograms) and is 13 feet (4 meters) long.
EELS is funded by the Office of Technology Infusion and Strategy at JPL in Southern California through a technology accelerator program called JPL Next. JPL is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California. The EELS team has worked with a number of university partners on the project, including Arizona State University, Carnegie Mellon University, and University of California, San Diego. The robot is not currently part of any NASA mission.images from NASA/JPL-CalTech