Entomopters, flying bugs on Mars

You like butterflies and insects? You love robotic creatures? You dream about Mars exploration? Meet the "entomopters", a brand new kind of small flying robots.

Created for the sole purpose of exploring planet Mars in the near future, entomopters are supposed to go where conventionnal rovers cannot go. Ressembling four wings butterflies, the entomopters will be able to crawl or fly over the surface of Mars, while gathering scientific information.

The plan is to make the artificial creatures transported by a rover (that can be seen as a kind of miniaturized, rolling, aircraft carrier). Landing and taking off from there, the robots will make reconnaissance missions, and then ask the rover to move to interesting places. The insects could fly one or two kilometer away from the rover, at an altitude of less than 100 feet.

Thus, these strange robots will mimic the way of flying of real insects, and could become the very first "intelligent, autonomous aerial robots" to explore Mars. They will be propelled by a very innovative engine, adapted to the specific atmosphere on the red planet. Using "artificial chemical muscles" to flap the wings, without using oxygen (that lacks on Mars), the engine allows a highly efficient flight. But the choices of the best energy sources have still to be studied during Phase II of the research.

The project has been conducted for five years by a team including Georgia Tech Institute, DARPA and NASA. Next phase of the project (refueling, communication...) should be completed on October 2002, and the entomopters could be fully implemented - and fly over Mars - in years 2013-2017.

Photos © GTR/NASA
Cyril Fievet, December 16, 2001

Related websites
  • Georgia Tech Research - Flying on Mars

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