Science! By Aug. 28, 2014 12:30 pm
NASA is training Swarmie robots to prepare alien worlds for our arrival | Science! | Geek.com

For a long time the trend has been for engineers to design the smartest, most advanced robots possible to complete a task, but maybe a swarm of smaller, simpler ones makes more sense. This is a concept being investigated by NASA with its Swarmie test program. It’s an adorable name for what is essentially a group of robots that act more like ants than people.

The NASA team has built four Swarmie robots to be used in the test. Robots based on these designs in the future might be sent to other worlds ahead of human astronauts to gather resources, but these ones are only spotting bits of paper with barcodes on them. The robots aren’t equipped with anything special — just a webcam, WiFi antenna, and GPS.

Their programming instructs the Swarmies to spread out in search of a certain item (in this case a barcode) and alert the other robots if it is successful. The other robots can then converge on locations of significant resources and make gathering it much more efficient. This approach could be used on planets like Mars to stockpile water-ice ahead of a human mission, which could then turn it into drinkable water, fuel, and breathable oxygen. This would, of course, require much more advanced sensor hardware than a webcam.

NASA is training Swarmie robots to prepare alien worlds for our arrival | Science! | Geek.com

With just four Swarmies, the system can’t scan a huge area, but if the programing proves robust, that number could be scaled up dramatically. Basically, the more robots you have, the less you need to worry. Did one of the bots drive into a ravine and get all smashed to bits? No problem–you’ve got 30 more that can compensate for the loss.

Along with the Swarmies, NASA is planning to test a small automated drilling robot called RASSOR. It is hoped the two types of robot might be able to work together to find materials that aren’t right on the surface. The project is still in the early phases, but we’re not launching a manned mission to Mars tomorrow either.

NASA is training Swarmie robots to prepare alien worlds for our arrival | Science! | Geek.com

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