NASA Plans to Send Robot Bees to Mars for Exploration

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It was the Curiosity Rover back in 2011 that was sent to explore the crater in Mars which was part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. Now seems to be the time for swarms of robotic bees to explore the surface of Mars.

These mechanical explorers – dubbed as ‘Marsbees’ will do a reconnaissance job for the humans is everything goes as planned. Even if the thought seems amazing and a little scary at the same time, researches at NASA are already busy investigating the possibilities of such a concept. The good news is that they are already being backed by funds to the tune of $125,000 through NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts initiative (NIAC) to further develop the idea.

The research team includes members from Japan and USA and the Japanese teams seems to be a little ahead as they have already developed a robot that resembles a hummingbird and can rise on its own into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The challenge that these researchers face right now is whether these Marsbees will be able to handle the air that is thinner on Mars. They have to redesign the wingspans, flapping speeds and the bees’ movement to be able to make them sustain the conditions on Mars.

The researchers are particularly focusing on a formula that will let these miniature robots to use their inertial power as they will be required to use minimum energy while maximizing their movement.

Technically termed as flapping wing aerospace architectures’ these bees can work individually or in groups to take samples from Mars and even measure the atmospheric conditions. A mobile rover will act as a home base for the bees where they can recharge themselves as well.

For preliminary checks, the researchers are designing a vacuum chamber where they will simulate the air density like that of Mars and see how the bees will be able to stay aloft using minimum energy. To achieve this, the researchers are focusing on creating compliant wing structures together with latest energy harvesting systems.

One theory is to mount springs at the wing base that will probably store any energy that is wasted during the flight. This will help in minimizing the energy usage and keeping thee bots in air for long durations.

The rover – which will act as a home base for the bees – will beam the data collected by the bees back to Earth. The bees are designed to be resilient too just to make sure that other bees continue their quest if among the group fails.

The idea is still a long way from becoming reality and from being a real option to carry on explorations on Mars. Once the initial stages are completed, the researchers will focus on other factors like take-offs and landings and what the bees will really do while they are on Mars.

Let us all hope the idea will become a reality. Let us also hope that the Marsbees won’t surpass human knowledge and colonize the Mars before humans can get there.