VIDEO: 5,000 robots merge to map the universe in 3-D

October 18, 2018 by Glenn Roberts Jr., Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

How do you create the largest 3-D map of the universe? It's as easy as teaching 5,000 robots how to "dance." DESI, the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, is an experiment that will target millions of distant galaxies by automatically swiveling fiber-optic positioners (the robots) to point at them and gather their light. In creating this detailed map, scientists hope to learn more about dark energy, which is driving the accelerating expansion of the universe.

Scientists working at Berkeley Lab are assembling this array of robots and their related electronics – which represent hundreds of thousands of individual parts – into a group of 10 wedge-shaped petals that will be fitted together to form a circular focal plane. The focal plane will be mounted near the top of the Mayall Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona.

Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab

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5 / 5 (1) Oct 21, 2018
I remember the time when such plates had to be machined individually for a particular group of target objects in a telescope's field of view.

One had to measure as accurately as possible the positions of the target objects on a photographic plate, go to the observatory workshop, write a CNC G-code program to drill and bore holes at the right places in a metal plate by CNC milling machine, kit out each of the holes in the plate with sensors and fiber-optic cables, attach the plate to the telescope, and go observe.

Took a couple of days minimum just for one observation run. Now they got robots, they can program the positions of the little guys, observe, and go make tea.
3 / 5 (2) Oct 21, 2018
The DESI web site is here;
3 / 5 (2) Oct 21, 2018
I remember the time when such plates had to be machined individually for a particular group of target objects in a telescope's field of view.

Me too. The big advance was of course the introduction of fibre-optics at the focal plane.

It also led to the Integral Field Units (IFUs) that have also recently massively expanded the cababilities of spectroscopic instruments.
5 / 5 (1) Oct 21, 2018
@RNP - thanks for the link. I had mostly imagined the robots would work in the way they're actually designed, but the extra axis of rotation of the small arm inside had me surprised - cool. They're certainly making the best use of the very small amount of space provided for each robot.

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