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JPL Designs ‘Transforming’ Robot Rover for Planetary Exploration

Published on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 | 2:03 pm

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory unveiled a new type of robotic rover Tuesday that is capable of splitting itself in two to access steep cliffs and other hard-to-reach places on other planets in search of scientific discoveries, according to JPL.

The rover design, dubbed DuAxel, essentially consists of two single-axle, two-wheeled rovers that are connected while in travel, JPL said in a written statement. Each piece, individually, is known as an Axel.

But when the rover encounters a steep slope, such as a crater side or a near-vertical cliff, it splits in half, with the two pieces connected only by a tether. With one half of the rover anchored, the other is able to rappel down steep terrain, which often presents features of interest to scientists, but cannot be reached with traditional rover designs.

Ultimately, it’s intended to cruise the surface of the Moon, Mars, and potentially beyond, according to JPL. Engineers put DuAxel through a series of tests on challenging terrain in the Mojave Desert during the fall, where it showed promise.

“DuAxel performed extremely well in the field, successfully demonstrating its ability to approach a challenging terrain, anchor, and then undock its tethered Axel rover,” JPL Robotics Technologist Issa Nesnas said. “Axel then autonomously maneuvered down steep and rocky slopes, deploying its instruments without the necessity of a robotic arm.”

Once ready to explore the Solar System, DuAxel could become an extremely useful tool for scientists, he said.

“DuAxel opens up access to more extreme terrain on planetary bodies such as the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and possibly some icy worlds, like Jupiter’s moon Europa,” Nesnas said.

Potential destinations for DuAxel have yet to be determined.

“While DuAxel remains a technology demonstration and is waiting to be assigned a destination, its team will continue honing its technology; that way, when the time comes, the robot would be ready to roll where other rovers fear to tread,” the JPL statement said.

More information on the Axel system is available online at

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