Exploring distant planets such as Mars is an incredibly daunting task. We’ve seen, through experience, that even something as simple as traversing the landscape to collect data can present insurmountable challenges to our rovers. To that end, NASA and others are constantly innovating ways to be able to explore more of these surfaces.
NASA JPL has released a video of one of their latest tech demos, a transforming rover designed to be able to rappel down vertical surfaces for data collection named DuAxel.
While in the standard traveling mode, the rover looks not too unordinary; four wheels and an array of sensors. However, as it approaches a cliff wall you can see the main feature unfold. The fore and aft of the robot shift into new positions, allowing the main body to be anchored in place while the front axle and associated sensors breaks free to continue down a cliff face. This free wheeling front axle has the two wheels for locomotion as well as a tether back to the main body allowing for a teamwork-like approach to collecting data on steep surfaces.
Currently there are no solid plans for implementing this rover anywhere, it exists solely as a tech demo. However we could very easily see this technology or a variation on this method used in future rovers… or even toys in people’s homes.