What has solid parts and squishes? NASA’s SUPERball robot.

A demonstration video shows the bot falling from a loading dock on to the hard pavement a few feet below. Such a fall would damage most heavy robots, but not the SUPERball.

The design for the robot actually comes from a baby toy. Which, if you think about it, is pretty brilliant. Landing spacecraft on moons, planets, and asteroids without damaging them is a very complicated technological challenge, and baby toys are by default designed to be indestructible.

Skwish Manhattan Toy
Skwish Manhattan Toy

NASA’s Vytas SunSpiral explained the stroke of genius at a symposium earlier this year. “You can throw it on the ground really hard and you’re not going to break it,” he says. “We’re like, ‘Hey, that’s a landing robot!’”

“We’ve broken all the rules of traditional robotics designs,” says SunSpiral.

Photos via Monte Mother/YouTube, NASA

Jacqueline Ronson is a science writer based on Vancouver Island, Canada. Before that she lived way up in Whitehorse, where she reported for the Yukon News. These days she likes to talk to smart people about the future of the planet, ride her bicycle, play her banjo, and frolic.