JPL engineers built a futuristic robot that may one day go to the moon.



Hi, I'm Brian Wilcox, and I'm the principal investigator for ATHLETE.

Athlete is the All Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra Terrestrial Explorer that we hope to fly to the moon in a decade or so.

I'm here at the JPL Outdoor Test Facility, and we're going to see a little about what ATHLETE can do.

ATHLETE is a six legged vehicle with six wheels on the end of each of the legs.

The legs are connected to a hexagonal frame so that we can have a flat deck for cargo that we might carry on the moon -- could be either equipment or it could be a habitat.


Every face of the hexagonal frame has a pair of stereo cameras that allow us to get a stereoscopic panoramic view of the surroundings of the vehicle, and to display that to the operator back on Earth.

So, the operator... it's as if they're standing in the middle of the vehicle looking out everywhere in every direction.


Every leg has a wheel on the end, and the wheel is relatively small because we know we can use it to roll efficiently on moderate or fairly hard terrain, but we also know we can lock it and use it as a foot if we get into soft or extreme terrain.


The wheel, being as small as it is, has a much smaller motor inside than it would have to have if it needed to go on the worst possible terrain.

That weight savings allows us to put a tool adapter on every leg that allows us to adapt any kind of a power tool into the leg and to use this power take-off to power that tool.

So in this case it's a simple gripper, and the gripper is actuated by the wheel; when you turn the wheel it closes or opens the gripper.

We also have a pair of... again, a stereo pair of cameras that we can use to look at the end of the tool and look at what the tool is doing so that you can see exactly what you need to see to use that tool effectively.


This vehicle is just a prototype, and it's only about half a big as the one that we expect to fly in another decade or so.

At that time we hope to land payloads as much as twenty tons. And with legs like these we can not only land them on the moon, but then they'd have mobility and manipulation when they got there.


View all Videos