This is one of the earliest co-inventions with my son, Woden.
Back in 1990, when Woden was in Kindergarten at the Marks Meadow
School in Amherst, we noticed that the mesh ball skeleta from the seed
pods of certain plants would be ideal vehicles for exploring windy
planets (like Mars).
The balls could be stored in compressed form inside a balloon-like
skin which would inflate before reaching the surface of the planet
(these balloons, when inflated in the upper atmosphere of the planet,
might additionally serve as parachutes to slow the vehicles down upon
entry, instead of using fuel in retrorockets); this skin would tear
away to reveal the instruments protected at the center of the mesh
ball as it tumbles over the surface of the planet.
It seems that NASA engineers, unaware of our prior work, are thinking
of patenting such a device (September 2001). We encourarage NASA to
contact us for additional ideas before filing the patent -- we would
be happy to share these ideas freely with them.