NASA recently reported that autonomous robots, which engineers have dubbed “swarmies,” are much smaller than other NASA robots like the Mars rover Curiosity. Each comes equipped with a webcam, Wi-Fi antenna, and GPS system for navigation.
Engineers from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida developed software that directs the swarmies to function in a way similar to an ant colony. Once one of the rovers finds something interesting, it can use radio communication to call its robotic brethren over to help collect samples.
“Now people are realizing you can have much smaller, much simpler robots that can work together and achieve a task. One of them can roll over and die, and it’s not the end of the mission because the others can still accomplish the task,” said Kurt Leucht, a Kennedy engineer working on the project.
Swarmies might also find a use on Earth, NASA officials said. The robots could aid in rescue missions following natural disasters or building collapses, crashes, and other wreckage sites. The robots would also make perfect pipeline inspectors.