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NASA to Deploy Swarm of Robotic Bees on Mars

At the beginning of the week, NASA announced the projects it will be funding through the 2018 Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I initiative. Among them, the flying amphibious robot we detailed on Monday and a swarm of robotic insects the agency calls Marsbee.
NASA Mars bees to take off from the rover 1 photo
Marsbees are a project developed by Chang-Kwon Kang from the University of Alabama. They are robotic flapping wing flyers the size of a bumblebee and equipped with cicada sized wings.

The drones come fitted with sensors and wireless communication devices and are to be used as a means to expand the reach of exploration efforts made on the ground by the rovers.

The wheeled machines humans already have on the Red Planet are to act as carrier platforms for the swarms of robotic bees. These would launch from the platform, go about their business and then come back to recharge. Just like airplanes do on aircraft carriers today.

Since the Martian atmosphere is at about 0.6 percent of Earth's sea level pressure, the bees will be using the cicada wing design, which supposedly can generate sufficient lift to allow them to hover in the Martian atmosphere.

The fact that the atmosphere is not so dense means an alternative means of propulsion could be used. A torsional spring mounted at the wing root would allow for inertial power to be utilized instead of fuel power.

The bees would be extensions to the rover, acting as reconfigurable sensor networks or used for sample or data collection.

For now, Marsbees are just an idea. NASA will fund this project, together with the other inventions selected for this year’s NIAC. Over the next nine months, several projects would be chosen to enter the stage two of the program.

"The concepts can then be evaluated for potential inclusion into our early-stage technology portfolio," said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate.

 
 
 
 
 

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