It is scientifically impossible to simply measure something with a tape measure. It has a thousand other useless uses in the workshop, like making lightsabers or determining how far it can stretch before the tape breaks.
Another application for the tape measure has been discovered by Stanford University researchers: as a means by which robots can make use of the terrain itself to traverse difficult terrain.
Actually, NASA, Stanford’s Autonomous Systems Lab, and Stanford’s Biomimetics & Dexterous Manipulation Laboratory are working on ReachBot.
The team hopes that by using a novel method of locomotion, the robot will be able to explore rough terrain, such as underground caves and caverns, without getting stuck like other robots do.
The concept behind ReachBot has been around for some time. The robot would use a series of long, extendable booms with grippers on the ends to reach out and grab onto objects in order to pull itself along, rather than legs, wheels, or even a propeller.
Similar to how Spider-Man swings through a city with his webs or how Batman leaps great distances without superpowers with his grappling gun, this method is slower and safer given that ReachBot could be more than 100 million kilometers away from its Earthly operators.
It would appear that Stanford’s BDML now has a ReachBot prototype that is at least partially operational and is being used to demonstrate and investigate the usefulness of this original method of locomotion. However, it is beginning with four self-extending tape measures rather than custom-engineered extendable booms.
ReachBot isn’t yet able to swing through caves, but in a recent YouTube video, it shows how to slowly move around a smooth concrete floor by extending its tape measure booms and using custom-built grippers on the ends to secure itself to large rocks that are scattered throughout the test facility.
Although ReachBot isn’t yet able to swing through caves, it is able to do so. It can get from A to B with relative ease using this method, and it also has other advantages. ReachBot uses three of its tape measure booms to lock onto three large rocks at one point in the video.
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The fourth boom then reaches out and drags a heavy rock closer, allowing it to grab samples or simply reposition the rock as an additional anchor point for its next move.
ReachBot’s readiness to blast off and explore other planets is currently unknown. Even though reusing tape measures is clever, it will need booms with a longer and safer reach.
Anyone who has ever played with a tape measure knows that you can only really extend it five or six feet before it “snaps” and collapses from the weight of the object being measured. Craftsman’s finest will not soon be sent to Mars by Nasa.