The new generation of robots being developed by NASA, have an uncanny resemblance to toy trucks. But could one day provide us with valuable information about far off planets, by racing across them. They could be our next generation tools for frontline explorations.
Dubbed as “Swarmies” they are much smaller than their predecessors Mars over Curiosity , but definitely more sovereign. Their basic design incorporates a W-Fi antenna, a GPS system and a webcam to enable smooth navigation.
The modus operandi is very similar to the colony of ants. If you’ve observed them closely you will know, that the moment one of the worker ants stumbles upon a food source a message is sent out to the colony. Together the workers carry the food back to the anthill in a record time.
Similarly, the Swarmies, designed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, spread out in all directions once set loose and start collecting data. They could be predesigned for a specific search like water on Mars. The moment a single Swarmie has some success it transmits a signal to the rest to join in. There has been a paradigm shift in the design of robots in the last decade. Contrary to earlier approach, designers are now concentrating on making smaller stereotypes with specific achievable goals. With a small team assigned to a task, even if a single member meets with an accident, the mission will still goes on.
Sending humans for Martian or Lunar missions is still not a feasible idea even for a giant like NASA.
Swarmies are just another feather in the cap for NASA. Their designers have already managed to design robots that slither like snakes and others that can be used for diving while exploring Europa, a Jupiter’s moon. The Swarmies are presently being tested in Florida, to search for papers with bar codes. In the pipeline are tests that will include RASSOR, an ability to dig under the surface an search for any valuable clue.
The usage of Swarmies is not limited to the Mars. They might as well be used in rescue missions in natural calamities and other accidents. Another great use of the Swarmies would be to check long lengths of pipelines for an leak or damage.
The Swarmies promise to work as an integrated team of robots that could be assigned for exploration, data collection, rescue missions or plain inspections.
Bon vivant, writer extraordinaire.