NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is developing a system of small robots that combine to form a shape-changing space exploration vehicle for missions on Saturn’s moons.
JPL said Wednesday its Shapeshifter prototype is a semi-autonomous system of 3D printed robots that form a ground exploration platform when combined and separate into flying drones.
Shapeshifter’s future, fully automated version would feature drones, known as cobots, that would automatically assemble without the need for ground station-based commands.
JPL works on Shapeshifter as part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program that supports non-traditional projects that may seem unrealistic to some.
The robotic system may support a future mission on Titan, one of Saturn’s 62 moons, according to JPL Principal Investigator Ali Agha.
Agha’s team will enter Shapeshifter to the selection for NIAC’s second phase in 2020.
The team is also looking to create up to 12 robotic systems for specific functions such as cave exploration.