Honey bee search strategy: Robot swarms to search Mars caves

Mar 22, 2011 by Deborah Braconnier report
Mars surface.

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a recent paper published in Acta Astronautica, Aron Kisdi, a University of Southampton engineer, proposes an idea of utilizing a swarm of robots to search large areas of Mars and the caves which current robots have been unable to explore.

The theory behind Kisdi’s robots incorporates the idea of quorum sensing, similar to that used by honey bees. Quorum sensing is a type of decision-making process used by groups to coordinate behavior and can be seen with honey bees when worker bees scout for new nest areas. Bees will leave the nest, gather information, and determine the best new location.

Kisdi’s theory works on this same principle. A computer program has been created that functions in a similar way to the honey bees. The robots, called Jollbot, are a rolling and jumping robot.

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A Lander would be able to release the swarm of 40 to 60 robots, allowing them to then individually go out and search for pre-programmed information, such as a difference of temperature found in a cave. Once a robot locates this information, it would return to the lander via the shortest route, and upload the information (temperature readings and coordinates).

Once the information is uploaded, the can then evaluate information shared by previous robots and decide to either start a new search or revisit a previous finding for more information. As information is collected, those sites which the robots decide to be a potential site for more exploration can then be sent to mission control for further exploration by other rovers.

This concept would be cheaper to build than the large rovers and allow for much more initial exploration, leaving the in-depth exploration for the rovers. The other benefit with this idea is that should one of the Jollbots in the swarm be lost or not function, the search process is still able to continue.

In the simulation shown by Kisdi, a swarm of 50 robots would be able to cover a 300 square meter area in around 5 days. With the addition of more robots with a greater search capability, the search area would be able to be increased.

Kisdi’s next step is to begin developing the hardware required for the robots, but the idea of a swarm of robots opens up the potential for much more in-depth searches becoming possible on .

Explore further: NASA's Maven explorer arrives at Mars after year

More information: Future robotic exploration using honeybee search strategy: Example search for caves on Mars, by Áron Kisdia and Adrian R.L. Tatnall, Acta Astronautica, Article in Press. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2011.01.013

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User comments : 10

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not rated yet Mar 22, 2011
Thats a pretty good idea, but what robots are going to be able to cover hundreds of square miles?
1 / 5 (1) Mar 22, 2011
not rated yet Mar 22, 2011
Where on earth did you get hundreds of square miles from 300 square meters? A meter is a bit smaller than a mile dude.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 22, 2011
and btw...Spirit and Opportunity covered hundreds of miles...and Phoenix likely will, too.
not rated yet Mar 22, 2011
now that's impressive...not!
not rated yet Mar 22, 2011
If the devices can be easily carried and deployed, it's a great idea. The swarm would be able to cover much more land than a rover alone, and provide a better path for that rover to explore on.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2011
Where on earth did you get hundreds of square miles from 300 square meters? A meter is a bit smaller than a mile dude.

300 square meters= worthless. less than the size of a large house. Mars landings are precise in the tens of miles range. Do you really think were going to send a rocketship to mars so that some toys can pal around in the middle of the desert bouncing off rocks? even if we can get them delivered right into the mouth of a cave, 300 square meters of exploration isnt any more effective than a laser scan would be. Its a start, but Ill be more excited when theyre capable of exploring an entire deep cave system complete with video.
not rated yet Mar 23, 2011
and btw...Spirit and Opportunity covered hundreds of miles

Not quite. The design specs called for each to cover about 600 meters (Note: meters - not kilometers) during its entire mission. Both have outperformed that somewhat. Opportunity has a total travel distance of about 20km behind it. Couldn't find the exact figures for Spirit (should be similar).

Do you really think were going to send a rocketship to mars so that some toys can pal around in the middle of the desert bouncing off rocks?
That's exactly what the last mission did (and since their track is very narrow they explored much less than 300 square meters thoroughly. Photography is not the same thing as exploration.)
not rated yet Mar 23, 2011
Why would the robots have to return to the lander to upload information? No radio?
not rated yet Mar 25, 2011
@Mercury 01
It says 300 meters in five days not in total.