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NASA Scientists Developing 'Intelligent' Underwater Drones to Explore Jupiter's Moon Europa

Dec 02, 2016 04:29 AM EST
Jupiter's Moon Europa
NASA scientists are on the verge of developing "intelligent" underwater drones to help in the study of Jupiter's moon, Europa.
(Photo : NASA/Newsmakers)

In hopes of understanding the marine environments of Earth, scientists use underwater drones. This same method is also being used by scientists working at NASA, but the difference is that they are developing an "intelligent" kind which would help them study Jupiter's moon, Europa.

NASA scientists believe that tracking life below the icy oceans of Europa would help in finding life on the icy planet. Satellites may help in studying the surface of the ocean, but signals would not be able to penetrate the surface below; thus, the need for more advanced drones.

"Autonomous drones are important for ocean research, but today's drones don't make decisions on the fly," stated Steve Chien, the leader of the Artificial Intelligence Group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, adding, "In order to study unpredictable ocean phenomena, we need to develop submersibles that can navigate and make decisions on their own, and in real-time. Doing so would help us understand our own oceans -- and maybe those on other planets."

If the project proves successful, these "intelligent" underwater drones can plot their own course depending on what they detect while submerged. This process could greatly change how scientists are collecting data nowadays.

To help out in the research and development, a group of scientists at NASA plus a few other institutions have used six coordinated drones to explore the Monterey Bay in California. The fleet of drones roved for miles, all while recording changes in salinity and temperature, which would plot their next route.

"Intelligent" underwater drones are not the only focus of NASA. In fact, the space agency is also working on metallic glass gears for their robots, as these have to withstand extreme conditions on and outside of planet Earth.

Metallic glass is a metal with a glass-like atomic structure. It has a low melting temperature and can easily be blow-molded when subject to heat. Gears made out from this material would no longer need lubricants even in extremely cold temperatures - such as in the icy planet, Europa.

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