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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Attempts to Use Swarm of Tiny Swimming Robots for Subsurface Oceans

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Article Summary
  • NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has an idea for space exploration when it comes to subsurface oceans.
  • The idea is to utilize a swarm of tiny swimming robots to venture into spaces that are otherwise dangerous and difficult.
  • By using a swarm of tiny swimming robots, the research can continue despite several of them being damaged.

Robots have the advantage of being able to explore where humans struggle to venture not just on earth, but in space and on other planets as well. Although still an idea, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory plans to use a swarm of tiny robots to make their way through icy crusts and underwater.

The benefit of robots is that they do not have the limitation that human beings need. In space, astronauts are already struggling to maneuver due to them needing to have access to enough oxygen to keep them alive.

Why Scientists Want to Use a Swarm of Tiny Robots

This restricts their bodily movement but with the small robot swarm called the Sensing With Independent Micro-Swimmers (SWIM), the robots only take up little room but can venture into locations that humans would otherwise struggle to venture.

Ethan Schaler, the originator of the idea, first questioned where miniaturized robotics can be applied in interesting ways that allow them to explore the solar system. He then noted that the swarm of swimming robots is capable of exploring larger volumes of ocean water and can help them improve their measurements due to multiple having multiple robots collecting data simultaneously.

When exploring, the robots would communicate with a probe located on a lander of the surface. The probe wouldn’t much in order for it to properly control the robots while the small swimming robots do the exploration.

The Benefits of Using a Swarm of Tiny Robots for Exploration

Samuel Howell, a SWIM team scientist, noted that by bringing the swarm of robots, they will be able to explore more of the environment compared to what a small robot could do. The multiple robots would also help them cover more ocean areas while exploring widely.

Another important feature is that it helps minimize risk since, in the event that several robots are destroyed, the mission can still continue. This is extremely valuable when exploring a brand new environment for the very first time since there are unpredictable dangers that could appear.

The use of a swarm of robots as opposed to singular robots does have its advantage as well in terms of speed and accuracy. These robots also help promote safety since the ones controlling the robots can protect themselves while the robots are venturing into dangerous territory.

Due to the unforeseeable circumstances that could revolve around exploration, the use of multiple tiny robots can also be a more efficient approach toward exploration in general. Although not confirmed, since the robots would most likely be mass-manufactured, scientists and explorers could potentially save compared to building singular robots with advanced capabilities.


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