Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor, or EELS for short, is a snake-like robot being developed and tested by a team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
This adaptable robot is being created to autonomously map, travel, and explore areas that were previously unreachable on Earth, the Moon, and other planets in our solar system.
It was inspired by a desire to descend vents on Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus and join the underground ocean.
The robot has been tested in sand- and snow-covered terrain at JPL’s Mars Yard, a ‘robot playground’ built at a ski resort in Southern California’s high mountains, and even an indoor ice rink.
Due to the significant communications delay between Earth and deep space, EELS is built to independently assess its surroundings, determine its level of risk, navigate, and collect data using as-yet-undetermined research instruments. The robot should be able to fix itself when something goes wrong without human intervention.
The project team started constructing the initial prototype in 2019 and has since made numerous improvements.
They have been experimenting with sharper, black metal screws for ice as well as white, 3D-printed plastic screws for testing on looser terrain like sand and soft snow. The EELS 1.0 robot is about 13 feet (4 metres) long and weighs about 220 pounds (100 kilogrammes).