NASA proposes to explore space with primitive robots with the
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NASA proposes to explore space with primitive robots with the skills of assembling children’s construction sets

Deeper exploration of the Solar System will be impossible without the massive use of robots and local resources. You can’t take much from Earth, so almost everything for building and maintaining bases will have to be found locally, including self-reproduction of robots. At NASA work over this concept and made significant progress in the creation of automata and the basic principles of their operation.

  Image source: NASA

Image source: NASA

In a series of scientific papers, the first of which was published In the magazine Science Robotics, a group of NASA engineers described how three primitive robots can autonomously build protective and service structures. Robots do not have computer vision, lidar or radar. They rely solely on touch, tracking the quantities and configurations of the base blocks placed in the structure. One robot brings the blocks to the construction site, the second transfers them to the construction machine, and it stacks them on top of each other according to a pre-compiled program.

Primitivism in this case is necessary so that, far from advanced production, robots can reproduce each other. And the simpler they are, the more reliable the result will be. But this is still ahead. At this stage of the study, NASA specialists developed the configuration of the basic building element – something similar to a cube from a children’s construction set. Reinforced with reinforced plastic, the “cubes” are easily connected to each other (and detached as needed). Such basic blocks can and will also need to be manufactured locally, so as not to transport all this far away.

NASA called the basic units “voxels.” To test the concept, 256 blocks were manufactured. Each is unusually light and strong for its size and density of 0.0103 g/cm3. The truss, created from blocks in a 3 × 3 configuration, could withstand over 90 kg of load. The total weight of the 256 blocks was about 18 kg, including the three backpacks in which they fit. During a camping trip, engineers used these blocks to build a shelter, a boat, and even a bridge to cross the river.

  Cover of the latest issue of Science Robotics

Cover of the latest issue of Science Robotics

The concept of space exploration using the “zero mass” policy was once proposed by the world famous American scientist John von Neumann. In the 80s of the last century, his ideas were developed by the American engineer Robert A. Freitas Jr. In his view, an interstellar spaceship will have to fly to the nearest star system, collect the necessary resources there and move on. Today, NASA and others are developing the metamaterials necessary for this, a simple example of which can be the basic building blocks.

But NASA has a more pressing task. As you know, a new landing on the Moon is planned in the area of ​​the satellite’s south pole. To organize communication in the line-of-sight zone, the antennas will need to be raised higher. It will also be necessary to raise solar farms, since the pole is poorly illuminated by the sun. Ideally, the height of the trusses should reach 100 m. Using the example of base blocks developed by NASA engineers, the agency is studying the question of the most optimal way to construct such tower structures.

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Dylan Harris

Dylan Harris is fascinated by tests and reviews of computer hardware.

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