back to article 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. Hull
    Pint

    Nice article!

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

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Nice article!

      "I had not heard of the thermal creep effect"

      You might have met a few of them.

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Boffin

    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. Kane Silver badge

      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. swm Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        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. Kane Silver badge

          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. Richard 12 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    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. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      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. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        "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. nagyeger

          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. bombastic bob Silver badge
            Devil

            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. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          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. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          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. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      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. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        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. Tom 7 Silver badge

    looks interesting but not for somewhere dusty?

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

  5. Chris G Silver badge

    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. Blergh

    Pollution

    It doesn't sound very environmentally friendly

    1. Kez

      Re: Pollution

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

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Pollution

        the first step towards terra-forming?

  7. Simon Harris Silver badge
    Coat

    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. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Coat

      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. Mike 137 Silver badge

    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. danR2

    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. MacroRodent Silver badge

      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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