Robotic Space Hedgehogs!


As the title of one of their video suggests, Stanford and NASA are developing ideas for “How to Explore the Surface of a Comet or Asteroid”. As the Rosetta team learned , microgravity is tough for surface operations, both landing and, in the future, roving.

Enter the Robotic Space Hedgehog.

The current model is a cube with flywheels inside. When a spinning flywheel is braked, the cube “rolls” in that axis. The project has a working model that works on Earth, and is being tested in microgravity. The videos are really cool.

The cube is completely symmetric, so there is no “upside down” problem. It can be dropped onto the surface and bounce and roll to a stop—a simple and relatively fool proof landing process.

It is easy to imagine dropping a whole prickle* of hedgehogs on the moon or an asteroid. They are compact and don’t need precision flying.

One of the future activities will be developing on-board navigation software to plan and execute movements autonomously. It’s kind of interesting to think about the parameters of that planning game. Assuming there is an understanding ot the location and orientation of the cube, figure out a sequence of hop-roll-spin moves that gets you to the destination, avoiding obsticles. Cool!

This is really nice work and, as Evan Ackerman notes, just because it is a simple robot doesn’t mean it is easy.

Several papers describe the concept in detail (e.g., here) and lot’s of info at the web site.

*A group of hedgehogs is called a ‘prickle’.


  1. Pavone, Marco, Julia C. Castillo, Issa A. D. Nesnas, J.effrey A.Hoffman, and Nathan J. Strange, Spacecraft/Rover Hybrids for the Exploration of Small Solar System Bodies, in IEEE Aerospace Conference. 2013: Big Sky, Montana.


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