"The point isn't to deliver a robot to another world, but to deliver scientific instruments -- all the different things to decipher the history of this place you're exploring," said Sunspiral. "For its mass, we think we can deliver a much higher amount of scientific instruments. Up to 50% of the mass could be scientific instruments... as opposed to about 25% on Curiosity."
He added that research on the ball bot is still under way, so NASA isn't exactly how it would work or what it would carry. For instance, it could have a robotic arm or the rods that make up the sphere could be used to scoop up dirt.
Some ball bots could be small, like the size of a basketball, and carry a camera. Several of these small bots could be sent to a distant planet, asteroid or moon, landing in different places and sending back information from multiple locations.
According to Sunspiral, the research could be advanced enough by 2020 to begin discussions about getting ball bots mission ready. But launching a ball bot could be one to two decades away.
Here on Earth, the ball bots could have commercial uses. Sunspiral noted that they could be dropped from planes to explore hard-to-access areas. They also could be used to explore pipes, caves and tunnels.
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