Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. 24/7 Space News .

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

Researchers Create Robotic "Bugs" To Explore Mars

bionic bots will rule new worlds
Rolla - Jan 14, 2002
Insect-like robots may one day swarm over the surface of Mars, helping scientists better study the planet, says a University of Missouri-Rolla researcher developing this new breed of robots.

Dr. K.M. Isaac, professor of aerospace engineering at UMR, is working with NASA, The Ohio Aerospace Institute (OAI) and Georgia Institute of Technology to create a robotic flying machine called an Entomopter.

The mechanical insect, capable of crawling as well as flying, will be able to study, videotape, photograph, and gather other types of information about planets, specifically Mars, closer than any current technology, Isaac says. Scientists hope to send these robotic bugs to Mars by the end of the decade, he adds.

The project name is "Planetary Exploration Using Biomimetics." "Biomimetics" refers to the development of machines that imitate birds or flying insects.

Isaac's part of the research is centered on creating the Entomopter's wings. He must find the optimal size and shape for the wings to develop the necessary lift needed to make it fly. For the past six months, he and his graduate student, Pavan Shivaram, have been working on computer simulations and prototypes of the Entomopter's wings.

This is where the study of insects really comes into play. The shape and weight, as well as the frequency in which the insect wings move, are quite different compared to conventional aircraft wings. Isaac is reviewing biologists' research about insects and birds in order to closely mimic an actual insect wing that can be scaled up to the Entomopter's size.

This research combines biological studies with aerospace engineering and robotics to develop the Entomopters.

"This is very exploratory. One of the reasons that they want to do this (project) is to double up these individual technologies and be ready to use them when things are available," Isaac says.

Isaac first learned of this research when a former student, Thomas Scott, contacted him about six months ago to see if he would be interested in becoming involved. Isaac was very enthusiastic about the prospect.

The robotic insect has been patented with the name "Entomopter" which combines the concept of entomology with the word helicopter.

The Entomopter could be as large as 5 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet long. The smallest it could be made depends on how small and light researchers can make the camera and other instruments and still fit them into the body of the robotic bug.

Researchers face several challenges in their attempts to ready the Entomopter for space flight. The first one is that Mars' atmosphere is composed mainly of carbon dioxide, which makes it hard for conventional aircraft to function because most conventional aircraft rely on oxygen-breathing motors.

Instead, the aircraft will have to rely strictly on chemical or electrical propulsion. The second challenge is that Mars has a very low density of gas, which makes it difficult to create a lot of lift for the Entomopter. The gravity that exists on Mars is one-third that of Earth, so this is another consideration to take into account when constructing the Entomopter.

In response to one of the challenges that NASA and researchers face, Isaac said, "In order to enhance lift, the exhaust gases from power generation will be directed out through the wing's tips. This will create a jet that will give the Entomopter an upward force. They call it 'out gassing'."

NASA's Glenn Research Center is currently funding this early exploration. Up to this point Isaac has been supplied $30,000 for his early explorations on this project. However, Isaac (on behalf of UMR), and other project participants are meeting in Atlanta in January to discuss each organization's findings on the subject. If the findings are significant, then NASA will attempt to fund the next phase of the project.

"I think that this project has a very good chance of continuing into the next phase, based on research that has been done by me and others involved," Isaac said.

NASA would use this technology to explore the surface of Mars by sending Entomopters out from the Mars Lander to photograph, take samples and map the terrain.

Even though NASA is the principal sponsor, the military may have uses for this technology as well. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is pursuing similar technologies known as micro air vehicles.

"They (the military) can send flying robots into caves and other places, taking pictures and gathering other electronic information," Isaac said.

Other practical uses for this technology involve specific missions. For example, if there is a nuclear accident at a plant, an Entomopter could be sent into the building to take pictures of the contaminated areas. This would provide valuable information to experts trying to contain the spill without the hazardous conditions normally involved.

Related Links
University of Missouri-Rolla
Search SpaceDaily
Subscribe To SpaceDaily Express

Mars Bionics Looks To The Yabby For A Pinch Of Inspiration
Melbourne - Jan 9, 2002
University of Melbourne scientists are using the humble Australian yabby as their inspiration to help build miniature robots for NASA's exploration of Mars. Platoons of robo-yabbies could soon explore the red planet searching for water or conducting chemical analysis of the atmosphere and the planet's crust tasks that are currently impractical for humans.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2016 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.