Insect-like robots could explore Mars Aerospace Online

Scientists at the University of Missouri are helping NASA evaluate the feasibility of using tiny flying robots as part of future Mars probes to gather information about the planet. K.M. Isaac, a professor of aerospace engineering at the university’s Rolla campus, said Wednesday he is supervising an aerodynamic study of computer simulations for a robot named “Entomopter,” a combination of the words entomology or insect study and helicopter. The Ohio Aerospace Institute and the Georgia Institute of Technology also are helping NASA with initial evaluations of the robot. “What they’re interested in is mapping the terrain of Mars,” Issac told United Press International. “The current thinking is the (next-generation) Mars Rover will land, and from there these Entomopters will fly in a circle about a mile from the rover, very close to the surface.” The swarm of robots would transmit different types of data back to the rover, depending on what sort of sensor — i.e. cameras or radiation detectors — they carried, Isaac said. The robots also could conceivably land and take soil samples, he said. Successful designs will be as lightweight and small as possible.