Science fiction has proved itself pretty effective at predicting the future, from Skype calls to touch screens to surveillance states. But has Star Wars paved the way for a new way to explore Mars?
Enter aerospace engineer Andre Mazzoleni, who is currently working on a new spherical design for a Mars Rover that looks an awful lot like the BB-8 droid from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
"We've been working on a variety of spherical rovers for several years, so it was fun to see a spherical rover in Star Wars," the scientist from North Carolina State University told Popular Science. "Everyone in our lab is a huge Star Wars fan."
So how does this new rolling Rover work?
All Mars Rovers currently use wheels to get around, which is great – until they get stuck in a ditch 225 million km away from the nearest AA van.
The answer, at least according to Mazzoleni, is to create a vehicle that can transform from a six-wheeled Rover into a rolling ball at the flick of a switch (see images above), allowing it to roll down steep slopes without toppling over.
It's called the Transforming Roving–Rolling Explorer (TRREx for short). And Mazzoleni believes this Star Wars / Transformers hybrid could be the key to future Mars missions.
"I would imagine BB-8 would struggle to climb up a moderately steep incline, but TRREx can easily navigate up a slope when in roving mode," he says.
The future's bright. The future's round.