# I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Light-powered nanocardboard robots dancing in the Martian sky searching for alien life

Light-propelled nanocardboard robots laden with sensors, flitting in the Martian atmosphere, could one day help us better understand the Red Planet. Wait, nanocardboard, you ask? Yup. In this instance, this novel material is made of aluminum oxide tubes arranged in an alternating basket-weave pattern to form a hollow plate …

1. #### Nice article!

In spite of studying physics for a few semesters I had not heard of the thermal creep effect. Thanks!

1. #### Re: Nice article!

"I had not heard of the thermal creep effect"

You might have met a few of them.

2. #### How to make it go where you want?

Just have lots and lots and lots of them, and let them go where they will.

Paging Von Neuman! Von Neuman to the white courtesy phone please!

1. #### Re: How to make it go where you want?

"Paging Von Neuman! Von Neuman to the white courtesy phone please!"

For some reason, reading the article I was reminded of Universal Paperclips.

1. #### Re: How to make it go where you want?

"For some reason, reading the article I was reminded of Universal Paperclips."

Thanks a lot. I just lost 3 hours.

1. #### Re: How to make it go where you want?

"Thanks a lot. I just lost 3 hours."

You're welcome, it's a great time sink.

Which ending did you choose?

3. #### How do you talk to them?

Surely the real difficulty is getting the data back?

Every fleck will need a radio tx and power supply for it, or it won't matter what experiments it carries.

1. #### Re: How do you talk to them?

And with a third of a milligram as payload, there's not going to be much more than the transmitter - if they even get that in there.

1. #### "third of a milligram"

They weigh a third of a milligram each, but can carry up to ten times their weight. So the payload would be more than a third of a milligram.

Also bear in mind, as usual, this is lab experiment / prototype stuff, not final production. The first transistor was pretty crap compared to what came after.

C.

1. #### Re: "third of a milligram"

Comparison... nRF24 radio chip loved by some Arduino users (without PCB, antenna, etc) is apparently 4mmx4mmx0.95mm... assuming the density is identical to Si and I can do the maths, then it weighs 35mg.

1. #### Re: "third of a milligram"

weighs 35mg today. You don't need anything _THAT_ complex, by the way. And for thermal considerations, you could mount it to the 'cold side' and only burst it. average power in nanowatts, let's say, with 10's of watt bursts and a very very very tiny duty cycle, powered by a supercap and a solar charger. Also need power for sensors, too, so you factor all that in.

_NOT_ impossible. Just difficult.

2. #### Re: "third of a milligram"

"Also bear in mind, as usual, this is lab experiment / prototype stuff, not final production. "

And even if it never passes beyond a lab experiment, it's one of the amazing and mysterious things that gets kids interested and curious. I could even see it as one of those executive toys on the desk with an airtight perspex box with many of these things floating around inside. Remember the craze for Crookes' radiometers?

3. #### Re: "third of a milligram"

using a super-capacitor, some kind of solar charger, etc. you could set up a "burst broadcaster" to transmit data [as long as it isn't too complicated]. Repeat it a whole lot and allow for unreliable reception and you can collect data.

To receive commands, you could cycle your receiver to turn on at periodic intervals with randomization, and listen for a broadcasted signal during the 'on' time. Listen long enough, and repeat the signal often enough (or make it continuous) and you can command the things, although somewhat unreliably.

Just a thought. Make it a 'swarm' and just keep using them until you run out of bots [design lifetime of the system].

Actually... this tech kinda reminds me of BALLOONS...

2. #### Re: How do you talk to them?

What's more, the signal will have to get through the thickening swarm of nano-satellites flitting through the Earth's sky.

1. #### Re: How do you talk to them?

martian base station(s) from which they fly and through which they communicate. like a cell tower, sorta.

4. #### looks interesting but not for somewhere dusty?

https://arxiv.org/pdf/1910.03900.pdf

5. #### Roboroach

I remember reading that UC Berkeley and Russian researchers have both come up with robot cockroaches, maybe swarms of those could be developed to explore Mars. Use a PV carapace to extend their range and for more remote exploration drop them by helicopter.

Let's face it, everywhere man goes he takes rats and 'roaches with him.

6. #### Pollution

It doesn't sound very environmentally friendly

1. #### Re: Pollution

If we're ever going to send astronauts to Mars, the least we can do is make it feel like home

1. #### Re: Pollution

the first step towards terra-forming?

7. #### Biochemical Analyser

If they were to look for Life On Mars by scanning samples for DNA fragments, it could be called the Gene Hunt.

I'd get my coat, but it's been in the closet for the last month ------>

1. #### Re: Biochemical Analyser

it could be called the Gene Hunt.

And if we listen for sounds we could name it after his made-up brother "Mike"

(fridge moment... wait for it... wait for it... wait for it... GOTCHA! - Coat please!)

8. #### Nice technology but ...

This is a beautiful piece of engineering but what constitutes indications of life?

"The Equations of Life" by astrobiologist Charles Cockell (Atlantic Books 2018) goes into this in detail, and it would appear that the alternative signs are relatively closely constrained. However a potential fly in the ointment (no pun intended) is that the same signs can be present and not indicate the presence of life. So there's a limited range of things to be looked for, but if found they may not be significant.

9. #### Dust

80 nm channels are going clog up pretty fast anywhere near a dust event.

I suggest landing a N2 extraction machine and using nitrogen as a lifting gas in the 95% CO2 atmosphere. One-meter balloons should be able to lift several grams of solid sensory and telemetry hardware.

1. #### Re: Dust

Why not hydrogen? Easy to produce from the water on Mars, and It isn't going to be explosive in the Martian atmosphere that contains almost no oxygen.

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