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Robotic Ants In Space 47

Regular contributor Ant sends word of a far-fetched plan to send robotic ants out into the asteroid belt with this story at "NASA may mimic the ant in its future efforts to explore the belt of asteroids that lies between Mars and Jupiter, a resource-rich region that astronauts might tap as humans move out in the solar system."
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Robotic Ants In Space

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  • Some people don't know the difference between reality and fiction. They scare me.
  • They began with a Star Trek writer.
  • As I see it, the problem with tapping other planets is that they all have a "gravity well", even our Moon. Asteroids have very little mass, comparatively, hence very little gravity to have to fight when sending the material back to Earth.

    The bad news about asteroids is that they're far away, but it's not like we burn extra fuel on a longer trip. Sure, if we sent humans there, we'd need air and food and water, but we're talking robots not humans.
  • Right now the human race is incredibly vulnerable to any number of possible extinction scenarios.

    1) polluting our planet to the point of drastically changing the global climate (note, some would likely survive in artificial shelters, but on the order of millions, not billions)

    2) large asteroid or comet impact (the likelihood of this happening within the next 2 centuries is higher than you think!)

    3) plague - with a global economy, viruses can be spread on the order of hours, not months. Even something that kills in a few days can be spread around the globe.

    4) nuclear holocaust - we have the power to completely wipe clean the surface of the planet.

    Who knows what other things I can't think up on a Monday morning after partying last night :)

    Just remember, even a very small group of humans in one other place drastically reduces our risk of total annihilation.

  • Why not send real ants?

    Why not, indeed? Let's send the fire ants. It's not like they would be missed. And if they couldn't learn how to operate the controls for the return trip, it wouldn't be OUR fault, would it?

    Uh, Your Majesty, we beg to report that our latest course corrections appear to have been inappropriate and we are, in fact, headed into the Sun. And the God-voices on the radio are only responding with massive guffaws and laughter.

    Boy, talk about a "generations" ship.

  • It seems that the more technology advances, the more ideas we mimic from nature. And it makes sense, too, since many problems we face are similar to the ones plants and animals have been facing for millions of years. Just think of that swimming suit that is modeled after shark's skin, thus minimizing friction with the water, genetic algorithms, etc.
    This is quite amazing and I think that there is still a lot to be learned from nature for many fields.
  • I think it would be more suited to send robotic camels. It would be funnier, and cooler.

    I'm totally serious.
  • I think the prevailing theory is if that we destroy the earth by some conventional (or non-conventional) means, we'll have a place to go.

    If we can't take care of this planet, why on earth should we be able to take care of the next?!

    *grin* Never tought of the space programs as means for the humans to get around the fact that when
    you polute something you have to clean it up :^)

    Makes the space programs the biggest and most expensive cover-ups!!
  • How come people are so interested in going into space? It's mindblowing cold, HUGE as in defining the word, and generally really hostile towards us humans!

    Besides the three good reasons you just listed (useful extremes of Heat &Cold, room to safely construct huge instruments & artifacts, the challenge to adapt & survive) there are many good reasons for humanity to leave the Earth's surface. Many good and useful things can be accomplished by leaving the security of Earth. I will not belabor them. There are many good books and articles on the subject. A few of the books are THE THIRD INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION by G. Harry Stine, MINING THE SKY by John S. Lewis, HIGH FRONTIER by Gerard O'Neill. There are many others.

    The practical reasons for going to space are many: knowledge of the Earth and her surroundings, almost boundless untapped energy and material resources, a challenging frontier to inspire. Certainly no serious case can be made that pursuit of space exploration and development will harm mankind in any substantive way. The most casual examination of the facts makes it obvious that a sea of almost unlimited prosperity surrounds our little blue marble of a world. Space pointedly destroys the zero sum game for humanity. Some people see this and know that the cold, and the vast emptiness, and the general hostility to humanity are the painful challenges that will attend the birth of something wonderful. Some people see. Most do not.

    What is the point of going there?

    The first successful hot air balloon flight took place in 1783, during Benjamin Franklin's stay in Paris. Watching from his hotel, he heard bystanders scoffing at the new device and asking "What good is it?", to which he retorted "What good is a newborn baby?"

    And before people get started. I'm for progress, inventions and the attitude: "we'll do it because we can". But on the other hand I think we have to be a bit realistic sometimes (as a race that is). ... and I do happend to think that even the wildest and most amazing projects should be evaluated based on questions like: "what can we gain as a race in doing so", or "would we gain more using the money on earth instead".

    First a point of order. Humanity as a group has done nothing to date. Various individuals and groups are responsible for the achievements normally attributed to human kind. We do not operate as a race. That individuals are capable of taking responsiblility for the ultimate fate of humanity is the key to our future. "As a race" we have done nothing for our race. As individuals and in groups, we have lifted ourselves from the life of mere animals.

    What do we gain? What we gain is the future of not just humanity, but all life. What we gain is the chance to better our knowledge and quality of life in the short term (the next few hundred years). In the long term, the single greatest effect of humanity expanding into space will be the Greening of the solar system. Life will expand out from this fragile birth-world. With luck, the life will spread beyond our little solar system. To date, we know of no life outside of this planet. We humans are the best chance that earthly life has to spread beyond this world. If we fail, then all life will eventually perish. When the Sun eventually dies, earthly life will become utterly extinct. The Sun will die. Humanity need not die. Life need not die.

    Life may yet live on if we have the will.


  • Of course, they'll have the most success if they find an asteroid belt that is sorta shaped like a picnic basket... =)
  • I was gonna post that myself, but I couldn't remember who did the work. :) Thanks!

    I think they are on the right track in investigating AI too. Understanding intelligence from the lowest level first, and building on our understanding from there, is IMHO more constructive. Trying to build human-level intelligence when we barely understand how to construct intelligence models on the level of a friggin cockroach, is assinine if you ask me.

    Some pretty cool applications for insect modelled robotic intelligence. Model a robot after termite or ant behavior, and let em loose on the moon or Mars. They'll tunnel out subsurface cavities and passageways, and then astronauts only have to inflate habitats inside and reinforce the structures with spray foam or what have you. Insect robots that can be programmed to search out water or other resources, and do work like above, would help reduce the amount of risk humans would have to be exposed to in order to support a mission on another planet. Cool stuff.

  • Hah! Always count on the Simpsons to have a situation to relate to any story! I could challenge someone to relate at least one Simpsons scene to every /. article ... that could get interesting.

    Homer's brain: Use reverse psychology.
    Homer: Oh, that sounds too complicated.
    Homer's brain: Okay, don't use reverse psychology.
    Homer: Okay, I will!

    Then again, relating the Simpsons to every /. article could get old...

    For more of Homer and his infinite wisdom, go here []. And here []. And especially here [].

  • Oh, you mean there is a distinction between reality and fiction? I had no FUCKING IDEA!
  • Any one else think this a plausible explaination of how the Borg might have begun? GEEKPRIDE!
  • How come people are so interested in going into space? It's mindblowing cold, HUGE as in defining the word, and generally really hostile towards us humans!

    You also just described high-altitude mountain ascents in remote parts of the world. And I, for one, would jump at the opportunity to join either a mission to Everest, K2, Mars, or a remote space station. For similar reasons.

    Do I need to say it? "Because it's there." And because we're human and hungry for knoweldge and experience and pushing our own limits just for the hell of it, because we CAN.
  • Well for a few reasons. First of all experiments in space yield insights into science that can be applied on Earth to improve the quality of life. These so-called "NASA Spinoffs" include Scratch Resistant Lenses, Athletic Shoes, Laser Agioplasty, and better brakes. For a more detailed list you can look at NASA Spinoffs [] or The NASA Spinoff Database [].

    Also, if we can manage to make getting to the asteriod belt affordable, there's a HUGE untapped natural resource that could be very useful.

    All in all, I'd say it's worth a lot more than the "one penny out of every dollar in the U.S. federal budget" [] that we're spending now.
  • Why not send real ants? Train them to get their space-walk on and shoot them up there. I'm telling you, ants are smarter than you think. They are plotting against us I tell you!
  • The sea is cold and HUGE and generally hostile towards us humans!

    With that kind of attitude the America would never have been colonised.

  • Not only can the robotic ants find the minerals to make things, they might be able to actually build the tiny screws, and then sort them!

    I just find this funny since there once was a discussion (no joke) to train ants on a satellite to sort tiny screws...

  • "What do we do?"

    "Protect the Queen!"
    "Which one's the Queen?"
    "I'm the Queen!"
    "No you're not!"
    Or something like that.
  • well, smart. sending a thousand 2 pound little bugers with only one tool a pice? personaly, i think if they're going to mimmic ants, they should try to mimic size as well, and use a swarm of them. just makes more sense to me i guess.
  • Looks like a real use for the hubble mirror
  • Last millenium:
    "Martha!, Ants just got into my cereal!" -- Earth
    This millenium:
    "Martha!, Ants just got into my cereal!" -- Ceres
  • I think that the asteroids are a good place to start. To make space exploration commonplace it needs to be made commercially viable. People quickly loose interest in launches that are made for scientific reasons and start demanding that the government stop 'wasting' their tax dollars on it ( look at the later Apollo missions ). But Joe Public is much more willing to spend money on space if they can get rich off it.

    The problem with getting rich off planetary exploraiton is that you have to boost the stuff you want back off the surface. That is expensive, but asteroids have very weak gravity wells so getting stuff off them is not much of a problem. If we can get a regular trade in asteroid materials going then it would help develop the interest and technology (and money) needed for planetary exploration.

    Let's face it, to us, sending manned missions to Mars sounds like science fiction. But to someone who has spent the last 15 years with the Aacme Asteroid Minning Company it may just be the next step to take to keep your stockholders happy.

  • Did grey goo scenarios come to anyone elses mind?

    What if these little ants really are buggy?

    Hmm. Perhaps we aught to get some AI Ant eaters ready just incase...

  • "The idea is to have a totally autonomous swarm you can send out to explore multiple bodies,"

    Sending tiny probes (only a kilogram each!) to check out the asteroid belt - could be prone to problems like big rocks smashing into them, or space anteaters.. Still, very good idea, especially since only by carpet-bombing the asteriod belt will you get the exploration done in reasonable time. Those are a lot of rocks to explore!

    Once there, 100 ruler and messenger "ants" would look on, guiding operations, as the 900 or so worker probes did the bulk of the work.

    Pretty good - one manager to 9 workers, unlike the normal ratio of one queen ant to one gazillion workers..

    It'd be nice to see what happens with this social-animal experiment: very different from NASA's usual put-everything-on-a-huge-spacecraft/station approach. Hope it works.

  • Did anybody notice the bit about "not launching before 2020, and then only from a human-manned station at a LaGrange point"?

    Folks, they are not talking about the earth-moon LaGrange points as the L5 society does, they are talking about the Sun-Earth LaGrange points.

    Does anybody else find 2020 a wildly optimistic date for such a venture? After all, it was more than 30 years ago that Clarke and Kubrick gave us 2001 with its lovely vision of a space station in near Earth orbit and only this year are we starting to put together something that looks less like Kubrick's vision than a bunch of tin cans bolted together.

    And while putting a permanent station in such a place would be easier than putting one on Mars (no gravity well on the far end), I can't see any damn reason for doing it.

    Personally, I think the whole ANT project is driven by its nauseatingly cute acronym.

  • It's the people with an attitude exactly like yours who are the reason why we don't have a Kubrick like space station in Earth orbit.

    No, there are plenty of good reasons to have a space station in LEO, even some moderately good reasons to have a base on the Moon, to send human missions to Mars and to the asteroids, and a lot of other things. But putting a station at Sol-Earth L5 is STUPID. It's just as hard to get there as it is to get to Mars or Venus or the asteroid belt but there is NOTHING THERE.

    It's people like you who fail to prioritize what we're doing who did Apollo the cheap, fast way instead of the slower but more future-oriented way -- by building the space station as a platform.

    As it appears to me, the only reason for putting this human-manned station at Sol-Earth L5 is as a jumping point for the "ANTS." But if that's all it is good for it isn't going to get done.

    It's fine to say we should do grand things; I am very glad we went to the Moon and wish we would go back. But there should be a point to the grand things we do. We learned a lot from Apollo but it didn't become the springboard for space colonization some hoped for because the sad truth was, the people paying for it didn't have lofty goals; they saw it as a stunt and when the stunt was done, they didn't see any practical reason to continue it.

    The Solar System is full of interesting places and things, some of which could be very useful to us and some of which could teach us a lot. While I'd certainly be in favor of sending probes to the planetary L-points to see what junk has collected there, I can't see the point of building a permanent colony in what is essentially the middle of nowhere.

  • Us: Aren't you listening? We've got fucking robotic ants in space! What more do you want?!

    Actually, we don't have them yet, but while we've pretty much given up on wiping out war or poverty or setting up a human presence in deep space, we think we might have the robotic ants by, oh, 2020 or so.

  • ... so that people will no longer complain about the bugs in their spacecraft systems!
  • I'd like to wish the space-walking real ants a happy new millenium.
  • Let's not forget that the concept was "reduced to practice" by nature some 120 million years ago. See E. O. Wilson's "The Insect Societies" and Holldobler and Wilson's "The Ants". If you are not impressed by insects, then try to build one.
  • Unfortunately these ANTS are missing one of the most important features of their organic predecessors: massive reproduction. That's what makes an individual ant so disposable -- it's easy to make a new one. Not so with the mechanical variety, even if they are made on an assembly line.
  • Here's the whole episode transcript for 1F13 [].
  • How come people are so interested in going into space? It's mindblowing cold, HUGE as in defining the word, and generally really hostile towards us humans!

    What is the point of going there? And before people get started. I'm for progress, inventions and the attitude: "we'll do it because we can". But on the other hand I think we have to be a bit realistic sometimes (as a race that is). ... and I do happend to think that even the wildest and most amazing projects should be evaluated based on questions like: "what can we gain as a race in doing so", or "would we gain more using the money on earth instead".

    Sure we can put a man on the moon. We're obviously also cabable of putting ants on astroids but does that suggest that we're headed for (or should be) deep space?! I for one wouldn't go there in any near future with the technology the human race have at the moment :/

    ... and I see no real indication that we're going to get anywhere in space easily, anytime soon!
  • Personally, I think it would be a better idea to attempt to tap the resources of those "heavenly bodies" we're a little more familiar with (and no, I'm not talking about Victoria Secret models, though I would love tapping those resources). I'm talking about Mars, Venus, or even our own moon. I don't see how we can gain much on any single planet if we're spreading out so much. We need to focus on a single goal and shoot for it. Spreading our focus means we give a minimum effort for each, providing much less room for error and much less expectation for great success.

    Such is the way in which our government likes to work...

  • You are totally, 100% correct that there is absolutely dick-all at the solar L-points save for a little rubble. This is, of course, the *exact* reason they want to build there. Keep in mind the primary purpose for any permanent station, until mining becomes a real possibility, is for astronomical observation. Space telescopes, gravity wave detectors, microwave scanners, ect. Being anywhere near the earth, or any other object, would seriously inhibit any such project. Earth has tidal effects, magnetic fields, lots of light, an orbiting moon (in orbit, the earth is a source of tides as well as the moon). The earth puts out as much radio as a small star, from human communication, which would also interfere. NASA has plans to use this point for these purposes. This ANTS jump-off point would be just one more application of this hypothetical station. Basically, the idea is that the next ISS should be built there, instead of here.
  • Time traveller from 1950: Wow, I can't believe I just arrived in the year 2001! If our predictions were true, humans should have by now developed means of interstellar travel, space colonies, cyborg assistants, and laser rifles!

    Us: Well, we do have these here robotic ants...

    Time traveller from 1950 (shocked): What?! Well, man may not have conquered the Universe just yet, but surely in this year of 2001, mankind has eliminated hunger, poverty, war, and weapons of mass destruction --

    Us: We have robotic ants.

    Time traveller from 1950 (on the verge of tears): At least confirm my hopes that the world's leading technology corporations have developed a high-performance, standardized operating system suitable for both the business desktop and enterprise server!

    Us: Well, yes, there is Windows 2000, the e-business platform of the new millennium, and --

    Time traveller from 1950 (hopeful): And it is available free of cost to all citizens?

    Us: Aren't you listening? We've got fucking robotic ants in space! What more do you want?!

    See you in hell,
    Bill Fuckin' Gates®.

  • They will gain their own intelligence and come back to Earth and hurl asteroid chunks at us for opressing their organic brethren. Hey, it IS 2001!
  • by Goonie ( 8651 ) <> on Monday January 01, 2001 @03:54AM (#538653) Homepage
    From the article:

    the fleet of buggy spacecraft would cruise independently to the asteroid belt.

    As distinct from just one buggy spacecraft :)

  • by supruzr ( 138432 ) on Monday January 01, 2001 @01:06AM (#538654)
    They will gain their own intelligence and come back to Earth and hurl asteroid chunks at us for opressing their organic brethren.

    Hey, it IS 2001!

    Enjoy it while it las~@[EOF from client]
  • by Linguica ( 144978 ) on Monday January 01, 2001 @01:46AM (#538655)
    Buzz warns him, "Homer, no!" But it's too late: Homer opens the bag
    nonetheless. The chips float about the cabin, and Race rues, "They'll
    clog the instruments!" Buzz is worried: "Careful! They're ruffled."
    Homer has the solution, however; he unbuckles his seat belt, and
    accompanied by "The Blue Danube Waltz", he floats about the cabin,
    eating the chips. But his head drifts perilously close to the ant

    Ant 1: Protect the queen!
    Ant 2: Which one's the queen?
    Ant 3: I'm the queen!
    Ant 1: No you're not!
    Homer: Nooo! [his head smashed the colony, and the ants float free]
    Ant 1: Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!
    Buzz: You fool! Now we may never know if ants can be trained to sort
    tiny screws in space.
  • by Fervent ( 178271 ) on Monday January 01, 2001 @04:55AM (#538656)
    How come people are so interested in going into space? It's mindblowing cold, HUGE as in defining the word, and generally really hostile towards us humans!

    I think the prevailing theory is if that we destroy the earth by some conventional (or non-conventional) means, we'll have a place to go.

  • by RapaNui ( 242132 ) on Monday January 01, 2001 @05:28AM (#538657)
    IIRC this was proposed quite some time ago by Rod Brooks and co. at the MIT AI lab. One of the papers was entitled "Fast, Cheap, and out of control - a robotic invasion of the Solar System". (Co-authored I think, by Anita Flynn). Makes for some interesting reading, along with some other papers by Dr Brooks.
    Try this (the link seems to be down at the moment)
    Rodney Brooks' papers []

    Also on 'robot collaboration'
    Robotic Ants []

  • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld AT gmail DOT com> on Monday January 01, 2001 @01:16AM (#538658) Homepage
    But we can defeat them by creating a giant magnifying glass and positioning it between them and the sun...
  • by gilroy ( 155262 ) on Monday January 01, 2001 @05:36AM (#538659) Homepage Journal
    Blockquoth the poster:
    The bad news about asteroids is that they're far away
    Actually, there are a fair number of near-Earth asteroids known that have orbits that are energetically easier to reach than the Moon, much less Mars.

    Some day, our children (or our successors...) will why we spent decades whining about decreasing mineral resources while ignoring the riches right above our heads.

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein