Using stereo cameras and lidar, EELS is able to create a 3D map of its surroundings, understanding the environment before navigating through it. Illustration: NASA / JPL-CALTECH

Technology USA19. May 2023

Snake-Like Robot: Slithering Where No Man Has Gone Before

A snake-like robot is going through testing and development in the hopes that the self-propelled and autonomous machine could, in the near future, explore a wide variety of surfaces, including Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, and possibly proof of life.

“It has the capability to go to locations where other robots can’t go. Though some robots are better at one particular type of terrain or other, the idea for EELS is the ability to do it all,” explains Matthew Robinson, EELS project manager.

Developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the 100-kg and four-meter Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor – or EELS – is designed to independently slither on the sand, steep cliffs, gaping craters, underground lava tubes, and narrow spaces within glaciers. The first prototype was produced in 2019, and EELS is still improving. JPL hopes that its robot can solve problems without human input, meaning that it could produce a 3D map to understand its environment and evaluate the risks, navigate through it, and collect data in an independent way. The goal is to finish EELS by 2024 to send it to Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Smithsonian Magazine

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