Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mars Rovers on the Futures Channel

Just got an email update from the Futures Channel. They have a new short film up on the Mars Rovers.

http://www.thefutureschannel.com/dockets/hands-on_math/reliable_robots/index.php

Two of the engineers who work on designing robotic rovers discuss what it takes to make a robotic system which is reliable and robust enough to send to the most remote destinations. If any one part of it fails, the rest of the systems should still be able to carry on in some fashion to complete the mission.

While it's true that if something goes wrong there's nobody around to fix it, I can't help but wonder if it would be all that difficult to build an independent micro-repair-bot that would piggy-back on the rover. (Think R2-D2 from Star Wars, or DRD's from Farscape, but smaller.) Then if something should fail on the rover, the ground controllers would have a means for getting a detailed report on the status of the robot. It could do some basic maintenance (like clearing dust off of the solar arrays, or removing a rock jammed in the wheels), or possibly more sophisticated (like replacing or bypassing a failed electronic component).

When we get to the point when the robots that we send out into the cosmos are adaptable, reconfigurable, and repairable without requiring human presence, then we may begin to see some interesting possibilities for what can be accomplished by robotic explorers. Until then, they will continue to be simple extensions of our own senses, mere tools with which we manipulate the universe.

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