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NASA | Autonomous Symbiotic Robotic Explorers

NASA | Autonomous Symbiotic Robotic Explorers

When exploring Mars we’ve only seen a small
portion of it with the current set of robotic vehicles that we’ve
sent, but there’s a lot more to Mars to it.
And one of the interest is in looking for a life, and one possible
location for life on Mars might be within lava tubes where
they’re protected from ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, perhaps a
more are consistent temperature environment. And those are very difficult areas to
get into. It looks like the way you enter them is through what’s called a skylight,
which is basically a collapsed part of the ceiling. And… it’s difficult terrain to get to and
them once you’re in it, the tubes are
probably 200 meters in diameter. so how do you go in them? We started
thinking since one vehicle wouldn’t
accomplish it, what kind of combinations of vehicles? So a
rover that would get you close and then some sort of aerial vehicle, be it
a truly aerodynamic vehicle if it’s possible to fly on mars. Or a reaction powered vehicle, a hopper of
some sort to go into these tubes and explore them. These vehicles are going to
have to be able to think for themselves, move for themselves, make decisions
for themselves, uh… enter and then leave in a safe
manner to accomplish these kinds
of space missions. Part of the problem is to integrate information from cameras,
visual type information into a navigation strategy and to use that to be able to operate without
typical navigational inputs like GPS and magnetic compass. We have always flown using some sort of planetary based navigational aid like GPS and
being actually able to fly outside in a realistic environment without
those would be a real milestone in automated exploratory flight for unmanned aircraft. We’ve pulled back from the full robotic vehicle and
basically are looking at software algorithms. We’re looking alot at
biologically inspired algorithms. One of the models we use is the honey bee. You have this little insect that can
actually navigate around 12 kilometers from the hive, avoid spider webs, avoid
hitting trees, find a field of flowers to sit there and harvest
nectar from and then intergrate its path back
to the hive and share this information. Well that’s very much like some of
things that we would like to accomplish. It does it with minimum computing power and so we’re looking at algorithms inspired by biology that
would make our task simpler, so that’s where the research has kind of taken us. Mars is the major goal, but this type of
technology in terms of other space exploration would be just as good on
some of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn. And there’s always that possibility of
applying some of it here on earth in terms of search and rescue missions.
You have collapsed buildings from earthquakes and you don’t have GPS
signals within those buildings, yet you want to explore them and try to
rescue survivors of the accident so thats one potential earth application.

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