Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

The Axel rover. Credit: NASA

NASA’s newest prototype exploration rover has been dubbed Axel–a name that fits its simple design. Built with minimal complexity, the rover is designed to transverse the toughest of terrain and even rappel off cliffs. It will be equipped with cameras, wireless communications capabilities, and sensors to operate autonomously, and a “trailing link”, or lever, for gathering planetary materials. However, Axel’s design, which includes a deployable tether, is intended to be part of larger, modular robotic spacecraft that could one day explore planets like Mars.

The rover, being developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and researchers at the California Institute of Technology, uses only three actuators: one to control each of its two wheels and a third to control the lever. This allows it to operate upside down and right side up, turn in place, and follow difficult paths. The lever has a scoop for gathering scientific data and can adjust its two stereo cameras by as much as 360 degrees.

Axel’s electronics and scientific payload are housed in its cylindrical body. This space also houses a tether that can be unreeled so the rover can descend from a larger spacecraft.

Most impressive is Axel’s versatile mobility. It can use different wheel types and sizes, from large foldable ones to inflatable ones, allowing it to travel over steep and rocky terrain, and explore deep craters. The diverse wheels also help it navigate rough, hard landings. The video below shows the rover in action.

Axel is designed to be arranged in a family of configurations to carry larger payloads:

The Axel Rover Family. Top left, Axel is stowed for flight; top right, it is in its surface mobility configuration; bottom left, two Axels carry a single payload module; bottom right, three Axels transport two payloads. Credit: NASA

Gain the insight you need on robotics at EmTech MIT.

Register today

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Computing, robotics, NASA, spacecraft, space travel, rovers, planets, exploration

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »