PUFFER: A Smartphone-Sized Planetary Explorer

Is there room on Mars and Europa for cute robots? [NASA] — collaborating with [UC Berkley] and [Distant Focus Corporation] — have the answer: PUFFER, a robot inspired by origami.

PUFFER — which stands for Pop-Up Flat-Folding Explorer Robot — is able to sense objects and adjust its profile accordingly by ‘folding’ itself into a smaller size to fit itself into nooks and crannies. It was designed so multiple PUFFERs could reside inside a larger craft and then be deployed to scout otherwise inaccessible terrain. Caves, lava tubes and shaded rock overhangs that could shelter organic material are prime candidates for exploration. The groups of PUFFERs will send the collected info back to the mother ship to be relayed to mother Earth.

We’ve embedded the video of the bot folding it’s wheels down to pass a low-bridge. You can get a view of the wider scope of functionality for the collection of demos on the project page.

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Highlights From Robotic Shipwreck Exploration

DIY Research Vessel in use, while ROV is busy below. [Source: NYT]
DIY Research Vessel in use, while ROV is busy below. [Source: NYT]
OpenROV shared the results of their June 2016 underwater expedition to locate and robotically explore the wreck of the S.S. Tahoe, currently sitting at a depth of 150m in Lake Tahoe. Back in 1940 the ship was intentionally scuttled in shallow water, but unexpectedly slid to a much deeper depth. OpenROV used a modified version of their new Trident design to dive all the way down to the wreck and take a good look at things, streaming it over the internet in the process.

We previously covered the DIY research vessel that was designed and created as a floating base station for the ROV while it located and explored the wreck, and now the results are in! The video highlights of the expedition are below, as is a video tour of the ROV used and the modifications required to enable it to operate at 150m.

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Foster a Robot, Explore Your Home Planet

The robots we’ve sent to explore other worlds in our stead are impressive feats of engineering. But stuck at the bottom of our gravity well as we are, they are fantastically expensive ventures that are out of reach of the DIY community. There’s still plenty to explore right in your own backyard, though, and this robot needs your help to explore planet Earth.

The project is called RoboSpatium, and it’s the brainchild of [Norbert Heinz]. The idea is a little like HitchBot except it will be sent from host to host by mail. (And it’s an actual robot, and not just brains in a bucket.) Hopefully each host will have something interesting for the robot to do for the 24 hours allotted, like explore a local landmark, get a robot-eye view of the goings on in a hackerspace, or just watch the sunset in some beautiful spot. Project participants will get to drive the robot via a web interface and do a little virtual exploration of a part of the world they might never otherwise get to see.

We gather that the robot in the video below is only a prototype at this point, and that the sensor suite and mechanicals have yet to be sorted out. Hackaday regulars will no doubt know [Norbert] better as the excellently accented [HomoFaciens], creator of dumpster-sourced CNC machines, encoders made from tin can lids and wheels of resistors, and a potentially self-replicating CNC plotter. [Norbert] has the hacker chops to pull this off, and we think it’s a pretty neat idea with the potential to engage and educate a lot of people. We think it could do with a little support from the Hackaday community.

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