Robots, on the whole, tend to be fragile. Sure, there are industrial robots that can take a beating, but that’s only when they remain in the factory environment they were designed for and receive regular maintenance. A bomb disposal robot may survive a blast — though it’s still a net win if they don’t — but could easily be immobilized by a set of stairs. SUPERball V2 is a huge tensegrity robot that stands out because of its remarkable resilience.
Tensegrity robots, like their architectural counterparts, take advantage of tensile materials to increase their structural integrity. Usually, that comes in the form of rigid struts held in shape with high-tensile cables. Just like with a suspension bridge, this construction technique allows for some give while still remaining stable. That’s the case with SUPERball V2, and why it’s able to withstand falls and impacts so well.
SUPERball V2 was built by researchers from the NASA Ames Research Center and the University of California San Diego Coordinated Robotics Lab. It’s constructed from six metal bars — one pair for each axis — that are each about two meters long and connected by cables. The cables are wound on motorized spools, which can be used to collapse the robot and for locomotion. But, the most impressive aspect of SUPERball V2’s structure is how it’s able to withstand impacts. It can easily absorb a 3.4 meter drop, and take a tumble down a rocky hill. That capability could make it ideal in rugged environments, particularly for space exploration on other planets where maintenance by humans is impossible.