Why taking a human being to risk his health and making him invest effort, knowledge, training and a good portion of time from his life to travel to another planet in order to explore it, when you can instead leave the job for robots to do it and make them send to Earth the results found? That’s exactly what NASA has in mind. Of course, sending machines capable of gathering data to other planets is not something new for humanity at all, but this time it’s about a special kind of robot.
Enter the Shapeshifter
The Shapeshifter is a remarkable, Transformer-esque collection of mini robots that can form one machine or act independently. Although it sounds too good to be true, the Shapeshifter is currently into testing phase by a team of scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The plan includes 12 robots that can fly or swim, capable of exploring caves, oceans and hostile environment where it was previously impossible for a machine to examine.
Cobots will be able to work together as a sphere when necessary
The hard-working little robots will be called cobots and the plan includes them to come together as a sphere when needed, without any commandment from Earth.
A prototype is being tested as part of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts research program. It doesn’t look too impressive at the moment, but it’s still capable of splitting and forming two flying drones.
Titan is the new target
One of Saturn’s moons, Titan, has liquid methane at its surface and it’s expected to possibly harbor life. Therefore, NASA plans to send there a drone lander called Dragonfly in 2026 to complete observations made by Cassini mission that previously explored the moon and Saturn.
“We have very limited information about the composition of the surface. Rocky terrain, methane lakes, cryovolcanoes – we potentially have all of these, but we don’t know for certain,” said Ali Agha. “So we thought about how to create a system that is versatile and capable of traversing different types of terrain but also compact enough to launch on a rocket.”
It’s so exciting to see that humanity finds new and efficient ways to explore the Solar System. One of the ultimate goals by NASA seems to get closer to us, and that is finding life elsewhere in the Universe.