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NASA created self-driving 'swarmie' robots that could explore extraterrestrial life one day (via NASA)


A small group of NASA engineers and interns, including Kurt Leucht, Gil Montague, and Karl Stollieis, have been testing a new concept, which is expected to become a new trend in robotic space exploration for years to come. Of course, the team has just been starting a long line of tests for viability before continuing to develop these and other robots, but the viability tests have been promising so far.


Whether or not humans will be able to travel to nearby planets in the near-future remains uncertain due to time and resource constraints. However, these new breed of robot space explorers could do a fantastic job of exploring space on behalf of mankind. In the future, these NASA researchers even expect that these robots can help ascertain extraterrestrial conditions and find food and materials for astronauts during manned expeditions.


The NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida has been hosting test from the swarmies in the parking lot. The best innovation on these space explorers in relation to others like Curiosity, the Mars rover, is the sleek, cheap, and single-purpose design. While NASA has previously focused on building probes and robot explorers stuffed with the most costly, latest technology, this new project is focused on building a line of cheap, easy to build and replace explorer robots that work together to complete tasks. Their basis function is to look for interesting and valuable material like ice-water and collect samples.


In order to complete these tasks, these robots are basically built like remote controlled cars. Their tech is very basis, only including a webcam, a Wi-Fi antenna, and a GPS system. The swarmies are meant to mimic the amazing bioengineering of ants who work together to accomplish great things. Swarmies are programed to spread out and randomly scour terrain for preprogrammed things of interest. Once they find something, they signal to the other swarmies via radio technology to come and help it collect a sample. While the team has only build a few swarmies for testing, they have a simulator which can simulate the effect of the existing code and hardware with a horde of swarmies on the job.


For now, the swarmies are programmed to find barcodes on slips of paper, scattered throughout a parking lot, but they could be used for much for in the future and the first signs are good. The team is also working on a snake like robot that could explore sub-terrain and underwater life on Jupiter's moons.


Even if these robots aren't helpful on other plants, they could help earthlings lead successful search and rescue missions, and even help engineers check large spans of pipes for leaks.



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