Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Rover (LEMUR) IIa, 2004–present;

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Location: Pasadena, California
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Lemurs are small, arboreal primates found in Madagascar. Their name, Latin for “spirits of the night,” most likely refers to their large reflective eyes and nocturnal habits. One of the most recent and innovative robotic devices at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s, the Legged Excursion Mechanical Utility Rover (Lemur) is inspired in part by this primate’s ability to use its limbs for mobility and manipulation. It is one of dozens of robots that JPL is working on for use in various types of space exploration.1

The robot’s role in space is by now a well-accepted fact; researchers have been working for years on developing robots that can substitute for as well as assist humans in space. The enormous success of Spirit and Opportunity, the rovers which have been on the surface of Mars for over two years transmitting images and data back to Earth, has only reinforced the potential for such technology. But unlike the rovers, whose “life” expectancy was initially measured in months, scientists and engineers are working toward systems that can be permanently installed in space, providing long-term, continuous information and data feedback. This requires a robot which possesses a high level of operational flexibility relative to mass and volume, dexterity, significant processing and sensing capabilities, and the ability to be easily reconfigured, both physically and algorithmically.

Lemur IIa, one of the most significant developments in this area, is intended to expand the operational envelope of robots in its size category (about 10 kg). Specializing in small-scale assembly and the maintenance of macro-space facilities, it consists of six limbs arranged around a hexagonal body platform composed of high-strength, lightweight carbon-fiber and Nomex composites. The limbs have a special feature that allows a rapid change-out of its tools, including a walking/poking tool, LED task light, video camera, and rotary tool. The stereo camera set sits on a track and is propelled around the circumference of the body, allowing omnidirectional vision. The advanced materials used in the Lemur keep mass to a minimum—its chassis only weighs 0.5 kg—while providing a rigid base for mobility and manipulation operations. According to JPL, the Lemur is the “Swiss Army knife of six-limbed primates.”

1 The information for this text came from a public document about the Lemur: “The Lemur II-Class Robots for Inspection and Maintenance of Orbital Structures: A System Description,” Brett Kennedy, Avi Okon, Hrand Aghazarian, Mike Garrett, Terry Huntsberger, Lee Magnone, Matthew Robinson, Julie Townsend at the 8th International conference on Climbing and Walking Robots, Sept 13-15, 2005, London, England.