At the moment it is a very hot topic for scientists, here on Earth, to figure out a way that robotic bees can carry out the all-important pollinating work of their natural counterparts. But a newly approved NASA project suggest that their duties might be useful elsewhere, and not just on our home planet.
The space agency has given the project a green-light to investigate how swarms of winged flyers might spread out over the surface of Mars, equipping the exploration efforts with a much wider net. But the question remains, how would robo-bees fare on the Red Planet?
According to early research carried out by the scientists in Japan and the University of Alabama working on the project, this hostile environment might not be so unfriendly for these interplanetary robo-insects. The researchers say that their preliminary results indicate a bumblebee's wings can produce enough lift to hover in the planet's atmosphere, which is around 100 times thinner than Earth's.
Dubbed as Marsbees, these robots would launch from a ground rover, a mobile base of sorts, keeping them charged up and handling all their communications. The swarms of Marsbees would take off and use onboard sensors and wireless communications devices to gather all the necessary information about Mars, just like current rovers do, but covering greater areas from their aerial vantage point.
It sounds impressive, but the Marsbees project is still in its very early stages. It is one of 25 proposals chosen by the space agency under its NASA Innovative Advanced Concept initiative (NIAC), and the team has been awarded around $125,000 (US) to further develop the idea.
This means carrying out further modelling and analysis of flapping wings in Martian atmosphere and fleshing out the design. Over the next couple of years, the team will examine the performance in a vacuum chamber reduced to the air density of Mars, and find solutions to optimise its wing design, motion and weight for the Martian conditions.