Sarah Petkus On Building A Cartoon To Go To Mars

Sarah Petkus is a robot mom (which means she’s the mother to a robot, not that Sarah herself is a robot, at least as far as we’re aware), whose child, Noodle Feet, is a character in Sarah’s graphic novel Gravity Road. Unlike every other robot on the planet, Noodle Feet is a content-based robot. Instead of robotic arms welding car panels together or 3D printers squiring out goo, Noodle Feet isn’t a robot built for a specific function. Noodle Feet’s design is derived from his personality in his graphic novel. In the graphic novel, Noodle Feet tastes with his feet, clambers over rocks, and explores his surroundings. That’s what the real-life version of Noodle Feet must do, and that means building the hardware to do just that.

Sarah has been working on Noodle Feet for about two years now, and last year she presented a talk about tasting feet and salivating toes. It’s odd, yes, but it is a fantastic exploration of what can be done with robotics.

This year, Sarah had the opportunity to be an artist in residence at ESA, where Noodle Feet could at least test out his dream of living on Mars. There, Noodle Feet played around in the ESA’s Mars yard, where he made friends with a copy of the ExoMars rover.

Since we last checked out the design of Noodle Feet, Sarah has put a lot of work into what her progeny actually does. Last year, Noodle Feet came out with fancy, grippy, retractable toes designed to clamber over rocks and extraterrestrial environments. In the year since Noodle Feet has gotten a few upgrades.

The first such upgrade is a giving module. Noodle Feet, for reasons unexplained in Sarah’s talk, like to hand out beans. The giving module is a cybernetic addition to Noodle Feet’s exoskeleton meant to dispense small trinkets in his wake. This module is designed somewhat like an Archimedes screw that scoops beans up and poops them out as Noodle Feet travels along the terrain.

Noodle Feet’s sense of taste.

Another Noodle module that has seen an upgrade from last year is the salivation module. Yes, Noodle Feet salivates and leaves a wake of sticky goo behind him. Salivating implies tasting, and this year Sarah has figured out a way to give Noodle another sense. Sarah took a spool of litmus paper and calibrated a color sensor to detect acidity. It’s a reasonable stand-in for a sense of sourness, but it is a sense of sourness.

Noodle is still growing, and Sarah is exploring what it means for a robot to go through puberty. There’s still a lot of parts to build for Noodle, and you can check out the entire build log over on Sarah’s development blog

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