WASHINGTON GN - NASA shared a look at a 3D-printed prototype Shapeshifter on Wednesday, describing it as “a contraption that looks like a drone encased in an elongated hamster wheel.” The machine is in testing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory robotics yard in Pasadena, California.

The robotics yard is a dusty place designed to challenge machines that may encounter rugged conditions on other planets or moons.

The current Shapeshifter test version has two halves that split apart and can fly as aerial drones , or they can combine together and roll along the ground.

The Shapeshifter team has Saturn’s moons in mind for the robot. NASA already has plans to send a rotorcraft (basically a large drone) to Saturn’s moon Titan with the Dragonfly mission planned for 2026. 

A more advanced version of Shapeshifter would consist of a group of smaller robots called “cobots.” The cobots could move independently, but also work together to traverse difficult terrain, explore caves, swim and even relocate a “mothercraft” lander from one place to another.  With robots working harder, better, faster, stronger and of course cheaper, is your job under the gun? Droids, drones and automation have already infiltrated workplaces and are moving up the corporate ladder.

Forget Roomba and Siri, today’s machines are much more complex. Here are some jobs that might be at risk of being taken over by machines and others that can’t be taken over.

Shapeshifter is in the very early stages of development as part of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program. The Shapeshifter team plans to apply for more NASA funding in 2020 to continue work on the project.

Let’s just hope there are no Decepticons hiding out on Titan.