Wheels may help robots get around a lot on earth, but apparently they're not so effective on other planets. Take our recent Mars expeditions: the rover Spirit is figuratively stuck in the mud, while Opportunity is crawling at a snail-paced 2 inches every second. While we might find these ironic situations amusing, scientists are busy coming up with a quicker way to get around the Martian landscape. The solution? Hopping.
Researchers at MIT have been working on the Talaris, or Terrestrial Artificial Lunar and Reduced Gravity Simulator, to get around the whole wheel issue. It's got four ducted fans for lift, . Forward hopping momentum is provided by a compressed nitrogen propulsion system.
They're also making their own Martian hoppers across the pond. At the University of Leicester in the UK, Hugo Williams and his colleagues want to make a self-sustaining jumping robot powered by the most abundant gas in Mars, carbon dioxide.
The British jumping rover would take in CO2 from the atmosphere, and store it in liquefied form through the judicious application of heat and pressure. When propulsion is needed, a thermal capacitor would return the CO2 to its normal gaseous form, sending the probe jumping to its destination.
With research proceeding on both continents, we may very well see gas-propulsion as a standard mode of travel for future probes. You can just imagine the Martian landscape filled with these airborne rovers farting themselves over and above their wheel-bound brethren.
[source: Popular Science]