NASA is funding a project that will study the feasibility of using robot bees to study the Martian environment.

A team of researchers from the University of Alabama and Japan is developing a new kind of Mars explorer. So, NASA is now funding their project called Marsbees. They have awarded the team $125,000.

“The NIAC programme gives Nasa the opportunity to explore visionary ideas that could transform future Nasa missions by creating radically better or entirely new concepts while engaging America’s innovators and entrepreneurs as partners in the journey,” said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of Nasa’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

This project involves robot bees working on an efficient way to get around the Red Planet by air.

Dr. Chang-kwon Kang, one of the researchers behind the initiative, said these “robotic flapping wing flyers of a bumblebee size” could “significantly enhance the Mars exploration mission”.

The tiny robots would be fitted with sensors and wireless communication devices. They would use a Mars rover like Nasa’s Curiosity as a charging point.

NASA’s rover project has by all accounts been a great success, but it has had one limitation. The rovers travel very slowly on land, thus, making it difficult for them to study much territory. Swarms of robot bees, on the other hand, could fan out from a base and explore the surface below from a wide range of perspectives.

Researchers have integrated the Marsbees with sensors and wireless communication devices.

NASA describes the Marsbees as about the size of a bumblebee, but with bigger wings—approximately the size of a cicada. Teams will equip them with oversized wings that should provide the lift required to stay aloft above the planet’s surface.

A team in Japan will develop and test the “micro flapping robots”, while Dr. Kang and his colleagues back in the US will model, analyze and optimize them.

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