|An artist's depiction of a fleet of Shapeshifter robots exploring Saturn's moon Titan. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marilynn Flynn)|
"We have very limited information about the composition of the surface. Rocky terrain, methane lakes, cryovolcanoes - we potentially have all of these, but we don't know for certain," Agha said in a statement.
"So we thought about how to create a system that is versatile and capable of traversing different types of terrain but also compact enough to launch on a rocket."
NASA sees Shapeshifter as comprising several autonomous robots, known as "cobots," that would be able to self-assemble into larger contraptions. They would then be able to move together or separate depending on the needs of the mission.
Agha sees a "mothercraft" type of lander that would touch down on Titan and serve as an energy source for the cobots while also carrying scientific instruments. Flight is easier on Titan, which has a dense atmosphere and low gravity.
|A prototype of the transforming robot Shapeshifter is tested in the robotics yard at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)|
"It is often the case that some of the hardest places to get to are the most scientifically interesting because maybe they're the youngest, or they're in an area that was not well characterized from orbit," Jason Hofgartner, JPL's lead scientist for Shapeshifter, said in the same statement. "Shapeshifter's remarkable versatility enables access to all of these scientifically compelling places."