Watch a tripod robot test its asteroid leaping skills

Before astronauts leave Earth’s gravity for days, weeks, or even months at a time, they practice aboard NASA’s famous parabolic flights. During these intense rides in modified passenger jets, trainees experience a series of stomach-churning ups and downs as the aircraft’s steep up-and-down movements create zero-g environments. Recently, however, a robot received similar education as their human counterparts—potentially ahead of its own journeys to space.

A couple years back, eight students at ETH Zürich in Switzerland helped design the SpaceHopper. Engineered specifically to handle low-gravity environments like asteroids, the small, three-legged bot is meant to (you guessed it) hop across its surroundings. Using a neural network trained in simulations with deep reinforcement learning, SpaceHopper is built to jump, coast along by leveraging an asteroid’s low-gravity, then orient and stabilize itself mid-air before safely landing on the ground. From there, it repeats this process to efficiently span large distances.

But it’s one thing to design a machine that theoretically works in computer simulations—it’s another thing to build and test it in the real-world.

Private Space Flight photo

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