NASA Plans to Use Robot Bees to Explore the Red Planet

On March 30, NASA announced their plans to use robot bees for Mars exploration. The agency has two research teams working on a design for a robotic bee capable of flying on the red planet. The project is still in early stages but its idea is innovative.

Called Marsbees, it plans to replace the modern rovers currently used by NASA. The rovers NASA use today are bulky, slow, and quite expensive. These are not at all ideal for space exploration, especially on Mar's rocky landscape. Modeled after Earth bees, the Marsbees are swarms of microbots studded with sensors and moves extremely fast.

These robotic bees will be able to cover much ground and are relatively low cost than modern rovers. NASA officials said that Marsbees are little bots with bumblebee-sized wing flyers and cicada-sized wings. The largest bumblebee species can grow up to 4 centimeters or 1.6 inches long. The American bumblebee, however, can grow only about a quarter of the size of the largest bumblebee species.

As for the cicada wings, they vary from 3 centimeters or 1.2 inches to over the double of this length. The agency hopes to use the Marsbees and send it to Mars for space exploration, an idea that is quite feasible. This is because the red planet has a low gravity, only one-third of the gravitation pull of Earth. This provides the robotic bees with an advantage even though the planet has a thin atmosphere.

If NASA successfully developed, Marsbees will map the red planet's terrain and collect samples of its thin air. The agency hopes the bees will be able to find methane gas on the planet as it is one possible sign of life. In the past, NASA’s Curiosity rover is able to detect low levels of methane gas. However, they are unable to determine if it was biologically produced.

Bots with flapping wings are uncommon on Earth with rotary-wing bots being more popular. These are bots with wings similar to quadcopters. However, using the flapping-wing design for Marsbees is better choice for the program. This allows the researchers to integrate certain highly intelligent but low-power technologies vital for Mars exploration.

The bots will be regularly returning to the home base to recharge. A team from the University of Alabama is working on the project. It remains in very early stages with the team working on some numerical models. On the other hand, the other Japanese team is tasked to design and test a prototype of the micro-flying bot.