Penelope Boston and Steven Dubowsky have received a grant from NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts to work on tiny hopping robots. An array of the microbots could be deployed on Mars, coordinating with one another like a swarm of insects to search for life below the surface of the planet.
The spheres would store up muscle energy, and then boink themselves off in various directions.
The researchers have calculated that about a thousand of the robotscould be packed into a payload mass the size of one of the current Mars Exploration Rovers.That would give them the flexibility to suffer the loss of a largepercentage of the units and still have a network that could be doingrecon and sensing, imaging, and perhaps even some other sciencefunctions.
A fleet of these little spheres would be sent to some promisinglanding site, exiting from the lander and then making their way over tosome subsurface or other hazardous terrain, where they deploythemselves as a network. They create a cellular communication network,on a node-to-node basis.
Some of the units could be fitted with magnification capability, soone could look at the textures of the materials that they are landingon. Some would also have chemical sensors to sniff and sense thechemical environment.