Nasa claims to have revolutionised the performance of its Thibodeaux test robot by using technology that incorporates electric motors within the device's wheels.
The agency said that the system, developed by electric propulsion firm WaveCrest, will provide more power and speed to assist astronauts on lunar and Mars missions.
The four-wheeled autonomous mobile robot is about the size of a 4x4 vehicle, and is currently being fitted with one 1.8Kw WaveCrest motor in each wheel providing it with speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. The robot is powered by four onboard lead-acid batteries.
Thibodeaux is designed to carry tools and geology samples for astronauts, tow trailers with scientific instruments or construction equipment like solar panels and power cables, and follow the astronauts around on its own. It reacts to voice commands and can speak back to the astronauts.
It can also perform reconnaissance tasks to determine the risks of a visit by astronauts. When the astronauts are not directing Thibodeaux by voice command, it can be driven remotely from great distances using wireless communications and onboard video cameras.
The robot is being developed at Nasa's Johnson Space Center in Houston by a team of scientists researching human/robotic interaction.
Nasa intends for the prototype robots to accompany astronauts on simulated missions on Earth to learn what is practical before designing and building the final robots which will be blasted into space.
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