Go bold: meet the extreme robot explorers

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Indiana Jones wouldn’t have had to come face to face with so many snakes if he had been here today. Instead, he could have borrowed a robot from his local science lab and set off in search of the Holy Grail, without even having to use his whip.

All over the world, many robot explorers are being developed to explore the deepest seabeds and darkest caves, in the hope that one day they can be used to search for rare minerals and signs of life on d ‘other planets.

There are also many companies that have produced robots capable of performing tasks that are dangerous to us humans, such as surveying miles of underwater pipes for leaks. Robots are also much better at withstanding the harshest environments and will never complain about being too cold.

From agile robot dogs to large submersibles, we take a look at some of the many robot explorers who might one day boldly go where no human really wants. Here are some of our favorite robot explorers:

Climbing robot – NASA

LEMUR 3 is a free-climbing robot being built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and is capable of crawling, walking and even climbing rock faces. This robot was designed to operate in extreme terrain, demonstrating the applicability of its systems for possible missions to Mars and the Moon. Photo by NASA / JPL

Frozen Lake Explorer – NASA

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Photo by NASA / JPL

BRUIE (Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration) is a prototype submarine rover from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  The rover began testing in the Arctic in 2015 and is intended to explore the inner ocean of the aquatic worlds of the solar system.  BRUIE is floating and uses his two wheels to roll under the ice and search for life.

BRUIE (Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration) is an underwater rover prototype developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The rover began testing in the Arctic in 2015 and is designed to explore the inner ocean of the solar system’s aquatic worlds, such as the underground oceans of Jupiter Europa’s moon or Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Photo by NASA / JPL

Caving diver – UNEXIMIN

The UX-1A robot diver is pictured during a field test in the Molnar Janos cave in Budapest, Hungary, 03 July 2019. The device was developed for underwater exploration in flooded mines by a team international led by the University of Miskolc as part of the Horizont 2020 UNEXIMIN Project (Underwater Explorer for flooded Mines) funded by the EU.  The submerged robot collects geological data from water-filled cavities and will be deployed in cave and mine accident search operations.  By: Balazs Mohai / EPA-EFE / ShutterstockThe UX-1A robot diver is pictured during a field test in the Molnar Janos cave in Budapest, Hungary, July 3, 2019. The device was developed for exploration underwater in flooded mines by an international team led by the University of Miskolc as part of the EU-funded Horizont 2020 UNEXIMIN (Underwater Explorer for flooded Mines) project.  The submerged robot collects geological data from water-filled cavities and will be deployed in cave and mine accident search operations.  Testing a diving robot in search of caves in Hungary, Budapest - July 03, 2019. Photo by Balazs Mohai / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

Photo by Balazs Mohai / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

The UX-1A robot diver is pictured during a field test in the Molnar Janos cave in Budapest, Hungary, July 3, 2019. The device was developed for underwater exploration in mines flooded by a international team led by the University of Miskolc within the framework of the EU - funding of the Horizon 2020 UNEXIMIN project (Underwater Explorer for flooded Mines).  The submerged robot collects geological data from water-filled cavities and will be deployed in cave and mine accident search operations.  Photo by Balazs Mohai / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock Members of the EU-funded Horizont 2020 UNEXIMIN (Underwater Explorer for flooded Mines) project team conduct a field test of the UX-1A robot diver in the Molnar Janos cave in Budapest, Hungary, July 03, 2019 The device was developed for underwater exploration in flooded mines by an international team led by the University of Miskolc.  The submerged robot collects geological data from water-filled cavities and will be deployed in cave and mine accident search operations.  A cave explorer robot diver tested in Hungary, Budapest - Jul 03, 2019

The UX-1A robot diver is pictured during a field test in the Molnar Janos cave in Budapest, Hungary, July 3, 2019. The device was developed for underwater exploration in mines flooded by a international team led by the University of Miskolc within the framework of the EU – funding of the Horizon 2020 UNEXIMIN project (Underwater Explorer for flooded Mines). The submerged robot collects geological data from water-filled cavities and will be deployed in cave and mine accident search operations. Photo by Balazs Mohai / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

Field Explorer – NASA

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Photo by NASA / JPL

This four-legged explorer prototype combines autonomy

This four-legged explorer prototype combines range “intelligents” provided by JPL with a dog-shaped walker called NeBula-SPOT, built by Boston Dynamics. Subterranean Spot was developed in response to the Subterranean Challenge, a competition sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). NeBula SPOT was designed to demonstrate the autonomy needed to navigate extreme environments without human guidance or access to GPS, and could be used to explore caves or potentially other planetary surfaces. Photo by NASA / JPL

Take a look at some of our other image galleries:

Autonomous underwater vehicle – RUBIN

VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - MAY 23, 2020: The deep sea autonomous unmanned submarine Vityaz-D is seen in the port of Vladivostok on the Pacific coast of Russia.  The Vityaz-D is the world's first unmanned submersible to descend into the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.  The submersible reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench on May 8, 2020, at 10:34 p.m. Moscow time.  Designed by St. Petersburg-based design office TsKB Rubin, Vityaz-D can dive up to 12 km deep and overcome obstacles and find its way out of caves and trenches using artificial intelligence.  Yuri Smityuk / TASS (Photo by Yuri SmityukTASS via Getty Images)

The autonomous unmanned offshore submersible Vityaz-D is seen in the port of Vladivostok on the Pacific coast of Russia. The Vityaz-D is the world’s first unmanned submersible to descend into the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. The submersible reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench on May 8, 2020. Designed by St. Petersburg-based TsKB Rubin design office, the Vityaz-D can dive to a depth of 12 km, overcome obstacles and exit caves and trenches. using artificial intelligence. Photo by Yuri Smityuk / TASS / Getty Images

Cave Explorer – NASA

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Photo by NASA / JPL

NASA's robotics team drives the test rover, CaveR, through Valentine Cave at Lava Beds National Monument.  Scientific instruments, visible in the box-like structure pointing towards a cave wall, will begin to be tested further downstream in the cave.  One of CaveR's engineers is perched on a lava ledge, a marker of one of the lava flows in the cave.  Photo by NASA / JPL

NASA’s robotics team drives the test rover, CaveR, through Valentine Cave at Lava Beds National Monument in California, United States. Scientific instruments, visible in the box-like structure pointing towards a cave wall, will begin to be tested further downstream in the cave. One of CaveR’s engineers is perched on a lava ledge, a marker of one of the lava flows in the cave. Photo by NASA / JPL

Autonomous diver – Houston Mechatronics

Photo by Ken Kiefer / Houston Mechatronics

The Aquanaut is an unmanned underwater vehicle capable of performing complex tasks. It was designed for commercial use to inspect underwater oil and gas lines, and is capable of using tools. This means that these tasks can be performed remotely, without endangering human life. He is pictured here undergoing tests at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas, United States. Photo by Ken Kiefer / Houston Mechatronics

Flying Cave Drone – NASA

Rollocopter, a hybrid aerial and land platform, uses a quadrotor system to fly or ride on two passive wheels.  This design gives the robot a greater range than air-only quadrotors and eliminates obstacle avoidance issues associated with ground-only robots.  When Rollocopter encounters an obstacle, it can simply hover over it.  To fly this robot requires a celestial body with an atmosphere and could be used to explore underground caves from other worlds.  Photo by NASA / JPL

Rollocopter is a hybrid aerial and ground drone that uses a four rotor system to fly or roll on two passive wheels. This design, developed by NASA’s Costar team, gives the robot a wide range and eliminates obstacle avoidance issues associated with ground-only robots. When Rollocopter encounters an obstacle, it can simply hover over it. To fly, this robot requires a celestial body with an atmosphere and could be used to explore underground caves from other worlds. Photo by NASA / JPL


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