WHEN HUMANS ARE finally ready to relocate civilization to Mars, they won’t be able to do it alone.
We know very little about our planet’s seafloor, but that’s poised to change as autonomous underwater scouting technology gets better and better. To that end, nearly two dozen teams are racing to develop robots that can investigate, map, and conduct science at extreme depths, and under serious time constraints. They’re also competing for $7 million in prize money.
This past spring, two engineers huddled behind computer monitors as they fine-tuned a robotic ape. The 443-pound simian-inspired machine, calledChimp, would soon be competing in the Pentagon-funded DARPA Robotics Challenge. The competition to build disaster-response robots, which had started three years before, was nearing its final showdown. And Carnegie Mellon University’s Chimp was considered a front-runner for the top prize of $2 million.
A snakebot recently crawled up my leg. The engineers sort of grinned while I grimaced, wondering if I should try to attack it or cry for help, an impulse that comes from watching too many scifi movies, I guess. I expect most robots to destroy me, but these snakebots are designed to do the opposite. And they could change robotics as we know it.