As it prepares to further explore the galaxy, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has developed what may be the most intrepid — and cutest — robots on record.
Short for Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robots, PUFFERs
are origami-inspired, two-wheeled devices that fold up to the size of a smartphone. With their compact size and relatively affordable cost, an army of PUFFERs can visit distant planets aboard a larger parent spacecraft, similar to the Curiosity rover. When the larger craft encounters an interesting spot it is too large to tackle, it will release the PUFFERs, which will unfold and explore. The tiny robots are designed to traverse extreme terrains such as lava tubes on Mars or ice-covered crevasses on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Then they’ll return to the parent craft, fold back up and send their findings back to Earth.
Prototype testing will begin this year in parts of the Mojave Desert similar to terrain the PUFFERs will encounter on Mars. In the meantime, while the little guys get ready for takeoff, NASA’s YouTube channel features a video of a PUFFER charmingly fold itself up to get through a narrow space.