The Swarm Grows

880px-Scheme_ant_worker_anatomy-en.svgSwarm: The word conjures up images of buzzing, whirring masses of six-legged creeping, crawling creatures most people wouldn’t care to take a second look at. A lot of us can’t stomach the sight of bugs, we forget that they are actually complex, highly resourceful organisms that we might be able to take a few pointers from. At the same time, I’m sure we’ll all agree hornets are just jerks. Think about it though: Insects are survivors that truck through adverse conditions with ease and efficiency. The old joke that the only two things which would survive nuclear winter are cockroaches and Cher, actually contains some telling information, and no, not about Cher. If you’re already connecting the dots, it’s no wonder NASA is interested in robots that behave like insects. If you’re not yet, let me help paint the picture: We finally land on Mars, but even with all the data the rovers have collected over the years, we’re not 100% sure what to expect. Let’s have a little fun and say, “Oh my god, there is a lot more ice here than we realized!” The only problem?  We can’t get to it and acquire any, and we’re not even totally sure of its exact location.
photo(3)On a world that would kill us in microseconds, every choice has to be calculated and every choice can mean life or death. Every step, ever move costs something. There’s a very tangible reason movies like the Martian are being made.

Imagine if we could tone down the need for putting life and limb on the line. What if we had robots that could help us out–robots that could brave the elements and spend the time we can’t afford to. What if instead of birthing abominations like HAL or the machines in the Matrix trilogy we said forget making robots in our own image.  UNM’s “Swarmies” are doing just that, taking on the challenge of exploration with all the resilience, determination, and teamwork of ants. Thanks to scientists and engineers at the University of New Mexico, this little insect has gone from an overlooked, everyday bug too the inspiration for robotics hardware and software that may one day really may aid us in colonizing other worlds. If you’ve read The Swarm Decends, you already know what 3D Proven Systems’ role has been. We may not be sending these guys to an exo-planet yet, but this is a great start. Soon these little guys will leave our hands and the hands of UNM to make their way out into the eager, nurturing care of teams of students. From there, the games begin, coming to a head next April at the Kennedy Space Center. Needless to say the honor accorded the winners will be tremendous, coming directly from NASA, and will simultaneously produce a finished robot ready to take to the stars. We don’t know what they’ll find, but we absolutely can guarantee their 3D printed parts will make exoskeletons even ants would envy.

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