NASA’s New Hedgehog Robot is Designed to Explore Comets and Asteroids

It’s like a microgravity Pokémon.

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Sep 4 2015, 2:50pm

NASA is developing a new kind of robot that would be ideal for navigating small celestial bodies—environments with rougher surfaces and lower gravity.

Alas, the Hedgehog bot doesn't look quite as cute as it sounds. Still in the prototype phase at this point, the bot is cube-shaped and spiky at the corners, designed to "hop and tumble" instead of rolling like a traditional rover. Internal flywheels power the bot's movement, and it can remain operational no matter which side it's on.

Back in June, two prototypes were put to the test on NASA's C-9 aircraft, also known as "the vomit comet." Researchers were able to observe the Hedgehogs in microgravity, the sort of condition they'd be subject to on the body of a real comet.

In addition to a movement called a "yaw," where the bot turns in place to face its intended direction, researchers confirmed it can do a "tornado" maneuver, where the bot spins fast enough to launch itself from the surface in case of a sinkhole or other sticky situation.

The Hedgehog bots are tiny, weighing in at only 11 pounds, and are much cheaper to produce than a full-sized rover. The project is still in phase II development, and now its engineers are looking for ways to give it more autonomy, so it can make navigational decisions without constant instruction.