Every so often, you see a robot on the internet that is so macabre-looking it belongs in a horror film. There is a quality about these robots that’s not quite robot, but not quite human. Generally, in the technology community, nine out of ten of these robots come out of the Department of Defense sponsored Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (a.k.a DARPA). (If you need proof, check out DARPA’s PETMAN)
This time, however, it’s NASA that’s supplying us with this post-halloween creepshow. The JPL’s Rock Climbing Robot called LEMUR IIB was designed with the idea that researchers needed a robot with a better grip that would be able to successfully exist in a harsh environment. The LEMUR features four arms that use 750 claws each to grab onto uneven, rough surfaces. The claws, which were hand-made by summer interns, are actually called a microspine gripper system. In fact, they are so strong, the LEMUR can actually hang upside down from them.
The newly-released video shows the newly-outfitted LEMUR going through a few trials that test its ability to climb vertical walls, overhanging, inverted angle and a zero-g drill for astronauts.It's a system that JPL is considering adding to the future versions of LEMUR (see it's already being replaced) as well as a few of their other robots. It would give all of the robots an advantage when working on rough terrain and expand the amount of information that scientists could gather from the exploratory missions.
This isn't the first time they have showed off a "gripping system," but the last one was hand-activated, which obviously made it less useful that one that is integrated into a larger system.
Now, before you get too excited, remember this is just a trial. The prototype is way too heavy as is and it can only climb relatively flat rocks. It’s just a step closer to what the robot could eventually be and when you consider the number of versions the DARPA robots go through, this is just one of many. Unfortunately, the image of its four arms jerkily making their way up the wall like something out of The Ring, will haunt my dreams for quite a while.