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Planet rover stretches its legs

Pasadena, Calif. -- A six-legged robot that may one day walk on the surface of the moon or Mars stretched it legs during a test stroll in a Southern California park, officials say.

The All-Terrain, Hex-Limbed, Extra-Terrestrial Explorer (ATHLETE) is being developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., as a half-size prototype of a robot vehicle that could transport supplies, fix equipment or even do excavation, The Pasadena (Calif.) Star-News reported.

The beetle-shaped vehicle was going through its paces in a local Pasadena area park Friday in preparation for a long-distance driving test in the Arizona desert this month.

A lot of ATHLETE's versatility comes from its ability to use its limbs both as legs and as arms.

The vehicle can roll forward but can also be programmed to take steps like an animal or human would, allowing it to simply step over obstacles, JPL robotics engineer Julie Townsend said.

The platform at the center of the module, where all the limbs meet, can also be set down on the ground. That allows the legs to be raised into the air and used as arms to drill, dig, or perform other functions that a hand would, she said.

Townsend currently pilots the vehicle remotely, using a Nintendo game controller.

"I think I have the best job in the world," Townsend said

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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