You might remember that I wrote about a new robot called Valkyrie that was being tested for use in various space missions by NASA. The eventual goal is to advance Valkyrie such that it is capable of performing deep space exploration.
“Advances in robotics, including human-robotic collaboration, are critical to developing the capabilities required for our journey to Mars,” NASA said. “We are excited to engage these university research groups to help NASA with this next big step in robotics technology development.”
Robots in Space
Suffice to say, Valkyrie isn’t the only robot being equipped to venture into space. A team from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) are working on a prototype of an army of 5,000 robots that can head out into the galaxy.
The machines, which are known as ProtoDESI, come in ‘platoons’ of 10 robots and are designed to help us enhance the accuracy of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI). DESI is intended to provide a 3D map of the universe and allow scientists to further explore things like dark matter.
Each of the robots carries a fiber-optic cable that can be pointed at specific objects to allow the telescope to capture the light that’s emitted by the object.
The robots are equipped with a couple of motors that allow it to position itself perfectly, and when completed these will allow the 5,000 robots to provide complete coverage.
Tuning the System
The robot network will be tested on a number of bright and familiar stars to ensure it’s working effectively before then branching out into more unfamiliar areas.
“ProtoDESI will show us how the software and positioners are working together,” the team said. “All of the things we learn along the way from ProtoDESI will be built back into the plans for DESI’s commissioning.”
The plan is for the first group of around 500 robots to be ready for operation by October, where it will be tested in the Berkeley Lab for a few months before hopefully it is installed on the telescope in 2018.
Once complete, the facility will feature 10 high-resolution spectographs that will be able to measure specific properties of an objects’ light. This information should give us a glimpse into just how quickly galaxies are speeding away from us, thus giving us valuable insight into the history of the universe.
It might not receive the popular attention of Valkyrie, but these talented robots may provide a greater scientific bounty than their anthropomorphic peers.