The hopping maneuvers may sound like they’d be unpredictable, but researchers have been able to demonstrate the Hedgehog performing controlled hops and tumbles under comet conditions by taking the prototypes into zero gravity.
“By controlling how you brake the flywheels, you can adjust Hedgehog’s hopping angle. The idea was to test the two braking systems and understand their advantages and disadvantages,” said Marco Pavone, leader of the Stanford team. One interesting maneuver shows how the Hedgehog might get out of an asteroid’s sinkhole by using a Tasmanian devil tornado move, launching the device upwards and out.
The fly-by asteroids with a number of terrains and a low-gravity environment would not cater to the needs of a rover like the one on Mars. A bot driving across an asteroid would not be able to handle traversing sandy, rough, and rocky terrains. Not to mention being able to move across surfaces that may be slippery and icy, and soft and crumbly. In fact, in such a low gravity environment, a rover like the one on Mars would probably cause itself to lift-off by spinning its wheels and landing upside-down.
The Hedgehog shows a lot of promise in helping researchers to understand these gigantic pieces of rock that skate across our solar system. They believe they can house instruments in the spikes of the bot, such as probes to to take the temperature of the surface as it tumbles on. Better still, NASA reports these robots are “relatively low-cost compared to a traditional rover,” allowing researchers to potentially release a small fleet of tumbling bots to take samples and explore.