Robot Rovers - Cool and Useful
I traveled this week to northern Maine to discuss propulsion with an associate. As I was walking to the terminal to catch my flight from Huntsville International Airport, I noticed cool posters plastered on the walls. Sure, there were cool pictures of rockets, missiles, UAVs, and technologies that the Rocket City is known for, but there were pictures of robots as well. Huntsville is well known for the unmanned robot efforts used in many areas of the Army war on terror. I thought about how close some of these robots looked like our Rocket City Space Pioneers (RCSP) rover.
Robot rovers are not just functionally popular because there is a need, but they are also just cool! Lately there have been several magazines featuring robots that looks like rovers. Some of the interest is due to Google's signing up with the X PRIZE, but some of it has to do with the success of many other rovers including the Mars rovers. I noticed that Scientific American did a major story on Astrobotics, and Servo featured the Lunabotics competition. There has been recent coverage in Popular Mechanics and Popular Science.
I had the opportunity to connect through Boston on a plane flight to northern Maine. I was struck by the fact that when I came down the escalator, I was staring at a cool 510 IRobot used to support almost any dangerous remote military application. It was very cool! This robot is about the size of our RCSP rover. It is a dual/quad-tracked vehicle that can go about anywhere. It can be thrown through a window by a soldier, it can go through water, and it can run underneath low-profile challenges like cars, house foundations, etc. It also has a boom that can be elevated and extended making it reach heights of over 5 feet. It has a gripper that is designed to lift items like bombs. It has enough torque to drag a full-size pickup truck. It is just cool!
It is cool to see robots are not just popular in cartoons and movies. They really are doing the job that either humans can’t do or should not be doing because it is either too dangerous or inaccessible. It’s pretty obvious to me that robots are going to do a fine job exploring the Moon. Too bad we did not have all of these cool toys when we landed all of those Surveyor spacecrafts on the Moon! Boy do we have lots of work to do!