Read here about the work of Aaron Edsinger, Miguel Ferreira, and Naveen Goela in 2002, when they developed methods for building and controlling deformable, tensegrity-based robots.
About Super Ball Bot, a tensegrity robot
Small, light-weight and low-cost missions will become increasingly important to NASA's exploration goals for our solar system. Ideally teams of dozens or even hundreds of small, collapsable robots, weighing only a few kilograms a piece, will be conveniently packed during launch and would reliably separate and unpack at their destination. Such teams will allow rapid, reliable in-situ exploration of hazardous destination such as Titan, where imprecise terrain knowledge and unstable precipitation cycles make single-robot exploration problematic. Unfortunately landing many lightweight conventional robots is difficult with conventional technology. Current robot designs are delicate, requiring combinations of devices such as parachutes, retrorockets and impact balloons to minimize impact forces and to place a robot in a proper orientation. Instead we propose to develop a radically different robot based on a "tensegrity" built purely upon tensile and compression elements. These robots can be light-weight, absorb strong impacts, are redundant against single-point failures, can recover from different landing orientations and are easy to collapse and uncollapse. We believe tensegrity robot technology can play a critical role in future planetary exploration.
Vytas SunSpiral, George Gorospe, Jonathan Bruce, Atil Iscen, George Korbel, Sophie Milam, Adrian Agogino, David Atkinson, “Tensegrity Based Probes for Planetary Exploration: Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) and Surface Mobility Analysis,” International Journal of Planetary Probes, June 2013.
Atil Iscen, Adrian Agogino, Vytas SunSpiral, and Kagan Tumer. “Robust Distributed Control of Rolling Tensegrity Robot” In proceedings of Autonomous Robots and Multi-robot Systems (ARMS) Workshop, Saint Paul, Minnesota, May, 2013.
Atil Iscen, Adrian Agogino, Vytas SunSpiral, and Kagan Tumer. “Controlling Tensegrity Robots through Evolution” In proceedings of Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference, (GECCO 2013), Amsterdam, The Netherlands, July 6-10, 2013.
Atil Iscen, Adrian Agogino, Vytas SunSpiral, and Kagan Tumer. “Learning to Control Complex Tensegrity Robots.” In proceedings of Twelfth International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS), Saint Paul, Minnesota, May, 2013.
See also robotics.
Links and References
http://www.magicalrobot.org/BeingHuman/ http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/cct/technology/stp/earlystage/niac_superbot_prt.htm http://www.nerdist.com/2014/02/super-ball-bot-nasas-terrestrial-explorer-design-that-was-sparked-by-a-baby-toy/ http://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/niac/2012_phase_I_fellows_agogino.html