Washington DC (USA) NASA wants to use compact floating robots to explore lakes and oceans on other planets and moons. Missions with the mini-robots in the water under the ice cover of Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Enceladus are conceivable. The so-called SWIM concept (Sensing With Independent Micro-Swimmers) was developed by the robotics expert Ethan Schaler.
“With a swarm of small floating robots, we can explore a much larger volume of ocean water and improve our measurements by having multiple robots collect data in the same area,” the NASA scientists explain.
NASA also recently approved a $600,000 grant for the project to be used to develop chemical sensors. The robots could also use these to find biomarkers, i.e. indications of extraterrestrial life.
Despite their volume of only 60 to 75 cubic centimeters, the wedge-shaped robots, which are only about 12 centimeters long, have their own computer, a drive system and a communication system based on ultrasound and several sensors on board. You can thus autonomously measure the temperature, pressure and acidity in the water. In order to obtain the most accurate data possible, the robots can combine their results.
Schaler’s concept also envisages a cryobot in which the small robots are located. This capsule is designed to pierce the ice sheet and release the robots in the liquid water. At the moment, however, the concept is still hypothetical and NASA has not yet announced a specific mission with the floating robots.