From the Department of That Is Some Awesome Technology You’ve Got There: Scientists invent ’spiderbots’ that talk amongst themselves inside active volcano.
I think this is some pretty exciting stuff, and I’m glad to see that NASA is working on it. Basically, they’re developing robots to form a self-healing network for sensing seismic data. The fact that they’re developing these little bots to use in volcanoes means that we’re going to get some incredibly hardy technology out of it. This latest permutation of the bots communicates with satellites.
It sounds like a very good set-up for eventually going extraterrestrial with them. Just imagine being able to put a bunch of these little guys down on Venus, or one of the very seismically active moons of Jupiter. Since the little guys are autonomous for setting up and routing the data they collect, they’ll be able to respond very quickly if one of the other robots gets damaged or disabled, so there would be very little interruption to gathering data. Which would be important, since the sort of event most likely to damage a little robot like these ones would be the very sort of events they’re supposed to monitor – earthquakes and eruptions.
Of course, beyond the geeky squealing I’m having over exploring other planets in our solar system, just having this sort of monitoring in place in our own volcanoes will do a lot to advance geological science. We still can’t really predict volcanic eruptions with real accuracy. Right now the best you can do is look at things like the amount of toxic gas a volcano is putting out and monitoring earthquake swarms that indicate magma is moving. Which gives you an answer of “soon,” but in geology, “soon” is a very fuzzy concept that’s not fine-tuned for short human timescales. So my hope is that maybe with much more precise, detailed, and constant monitoring of this sort, we could eventually come to a better understanding of the internal workings of volcanoes, and thus the warning signs when an eruption is imminent in the human meaning of the word.
Also, I admit that I just love it whenever I read about self-healing networks. I actually started out my working life as a technician for AT&T, at a time when self-healing fiber optic and sonet rings were getting their real start in the network. I still think that sort of technology is incredibly cool.