When I say hedgehog
the odds are good that you think about either a small creature you find in your
garden sometimes and the rest of you probably also think of a certain blue
video game character. Few of you probably thing of deep space exploration, but
that is exactly the model that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA and Stanford
University are looking at as the future
of planetary exploration.
The hedgehogs would
be deployed from a ship orbiting the planet, and then they would begin to
explore the planet on their own. In this case the target is not a planet, but
the moon Phobos, which circles Mars. These hedgehog-based designs would be a
first for space exploration, equipped with large spikes that would allow the
robot to keep its footing while moving in low gravity environments. The
proposed robot could jump up to 10 meters to avoid obstacles in the terrain.
The real leap
forward here is not only in shape, but also in the way that the robots will
move around the planet, by making their own decisions. The system will be
autonomous, and make decisions about where to scout without waiting for
commands from a human. Marco
Pavone, an assistant professor in Stanford's Department of Aeronautics and
Astronautics and the developer of this hedgehog, said the following in a
"It's the next level of autonomy in space.”
For now the mission
has not been approved and there is no set date for a launch.