Field geologists, meet your robotic replacements

NASA is developing a robotic concept vehicle for bulk loading and remote exploration.

Resembling a body-less six-legged spider, the All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer, or ATHLETE for short, moves around on legs with wheels. The legs can can also lift up and down when the robot encounters steep terrain.

The vehicle is fully-equipped with a multitude of cameras and sensors so it can be driven remotely, avatar style.

NASA says ATHLETE stands to a maximum height of just over 4m (13 ft) and has a payload capacity of 450 kg (990 lb) in Earth gravity.

Every wheel has an independent motor, each acting as a type of Swiss Army Knife. Wheels can function as shovels, saws and grippers while the five other legs keep the robot steady.

Possible applications are missions to the moon, mars and even to asteroids.

But many of NASA's best innovations have not stayed space-bound. The U.S. space program has brought us everything from enriched baby food to improved radial tires. Maybe automated field work would be another application.