FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

ANTS in Space

NASA is developing a new type of robotic space probe that could maneuver over almost any type of terrain while networking with other probes to form "swarms" to spread out over rugged terrain of a distant world, or change shape to form useful objects.

The first prototype in NASA's autonomous nanotechnology swarms (ANTS) vision is hardly nano in size. In fact, it's a relatively large, rather inelegant device called the TETwalker (for tetrahedral walker). The pyramid-shaped devices moves by continually toppling itself over; this prevents it from getting stuck, and allows it to operate in any position.

NASA's long-term plan is to develop miniaturized TETwalkers that would operate as a swarm that could configure itself into a variety of shapes, adapt to multiple conditions, and repair itself if damaged. All of these are highly beneficial traits for a probe system that would explore harsh, distant environments such as those of Mars or the moons of Jupiter or Saturn.

TETwalkers were tested in Antarctica in January, and the development team is exploring how to apply artificial intelligence to the project. NASA, however, does not expect ANTS to be ready for deployment for another 30 years.

Source: NASA, Roland Piquepaille's Tech Trends