Photo: Murray Robertson/Nanovisions/John Baker
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory just landed the SUV-sized Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars, which will beam information back to the Earth for the next few years and reveal unimaginable insights into the red planet.What’s next for Mars exploration? Some researchers think the best plan is to go small, not big. Instead of landing just one rover on the surface, a Mars-orbiting craft could release say, 30,000 robots over thousands of square miles.
From Popular Science:
The first nanobots to reach Mars could arrive as a cloud of “smart dust”—sand-grain-size robots that travel like a sand storm, using the Martian wind for propulsion. An orbiting spacecraft would drop a capsule of the dust motes onto the planet. From there, they would take advantage of Mars’s low gravity (38 per cent of Earth’s) to ride the thin Martian winds.
These nanobots would contain sensors of different kinds, and they would be able to change their shape to pick up the wind or settle down in the dust. This isn’t just a thought experiment, NASA is working with engineers to build a two-foot-high proof-of-concept bot, at a slightly larger-than-nano scale. Again from PopSci:
Researchers at NASA’s ANTS (Autonomous Nanotechnological Swarm) program have been developing concepts for tiny robots, called TETwalkers, capable of doing just that. Each TETwalker would be a tetrahedron of carbon-nanotube struts connected by joints. Each individual robot could move by lengthening or shortening its struts, thereby shifting its centre of gravity until it tumbles in the desired direction. Together, tens of thousands of nanoscale TETwalkers could connect together to form devices such as rovers and antennas, which could travel the planet in search of signs of life and water.
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