Insect-like robots may one day swarm over the surface of Mars, helping scientists better study the planet, says K.M. Isaac, who is helping to create this new breed of bugbots. Isaac, a UMR professor of aerospace engineering, is working with NASA, the Ohio Aerospace Institute and Georgia Institute of Technology to create a locust-like robot called an entomopter. The mechanical insect, capable of crawling as well as flying, will take close-up photos and video of the Red Planet and gather other information that current technology cannot, Isaac says. Scientists hope to send these robotic bugs to Mars by the end of the decade.
Isaac’s share of the research focuses on creating the entomopter’s wings. His study involves a bit of research of his own, as Isaac has been reading up on how insects and birds fly in order to closely mimic an actual insect wing.
Even though NASA is the principal sponsor, the military may also have uses for this technology. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is pursuing similar technologies, known as micro air vehicles, Isaac says. "They (the military) can send flying robots into caves and other places, taking pictures and gathering other electronic information." Perhaps a robotic bug could help U.S. forces track down a certain terrorist with a penchant for hiding in caves.