Warning: This is an idea of how to meet our mission to explore space, bring enthusiasm to the general public all while helping expand the space market. Some of the ideas are based on things that are already developed. The depth to which this train of thought can take us is not complete and requires your input to get there.
What would it be like if you could control a spider-bot in Mars from your home computer? You could use it to explore Mars (or any other planet) as if you were actually there. Wouldn’t that be fun? I think so! That is why I think it would be awesome if NASA helped spearhead an initiative to create the infrastructure necessary so that one day any citizen could log on to their computer to explore space virtually.
Now I know some of you will think this is too expensive and it can’t be done. I disagree, and I think it can be profitable to our economy. NASA has already done a lot of work on spider-bots. This work can be leveraged to make it possible so that one day (not 100 years from now, but 10-20 years from now) we could easily choose to explore space virtually through the eyes of one of these spider-bots.
This post will go through the technological infrastructure that is necessary to make it feasible, and the method of developing the spider-bot to increase its versatility.
What is necessary?
The first thing that is necessary is the Satellite infrastructure so that the person in front of his computer can communicate with the spider-bot. This is critical, because if we do this right there is a high potential that industry will be able to use this work to expand space exploration beyond anything that is written in this post. That is why any Satellite infrastructure that is created must have the ability to have ultra-fast connections with earth. The satellite network must be able to communicate with earth instantly with high rates of data at any time. The satellite network must be flexible enough to be able to increase its bandwidth when and if industry demands it to be increased. (Hint: radiation issues that need to be considered on earth (for health reasons) don’t necessarily need to be considered in space where there is nothing there, so we can experiment more in space.)
The reason that creating a strong satellite/communications infrastructure in space is necessary is because it is more cost effective to explore space and also to build infrastructure for human space flight through the implementation of robotic technologies. In the future, companies won’t send humans to mine for resources, they will send robots. However, the ability to send robots is limited to whether they can communicate with these robots. Further, if we plan to have human exploration of Mars, it is prudent to send robots to build the infrastructure that humans will use. All this is becoming feasible/practical now that computer computation capability is nearing the capability dreamed about in science fiction. (Hint: Building this infrastructure is a high cost investment that will ultimately lower the operations cost of space exploration.)
The Dao of the Spider-bot
The spider-bot is cool because of the flexibility that it allows. You could easily add wheels to some of the legs and it becomes a car. You could make it walk on two legs (if you can figure this out) and it emulates a human with four hands (that is better than a robot that emulates a regular human). You could use four legs as a base and use two to build and work on things. Heck you could add another pair of legs and increase its versatility even more. Let us just say the spider-bot is pretty cool, because of the flexibility inherent in its design.
How do we develop the functionality of the spider-bot? The first step to developing the spider-bot is to develop the basic mechanics of the spider-bot so that it allows the most flexibility for upgrades in actuator technology and micro-controller technology (CPU). Once the basic mechanics is developed, the infrastructure should become open-source for all technologist enthusiast can hack the hardware to make it better than it was ever deemed possible. This should be further enhanced by creating a prototyping version of the spider-bot that can be sold in the free market for around $200-$500 bucks. This prototyping version would basically be a “toy” by the standards of NASA, but it would also be an inexpensive replica that amateurs could hack and improve on. Opening the infrastructure of the space spider-bot, with the double punch of creating a prototyping spider-bot would quicken the development of future generations of the spider-bot. Creating a prototyping spider-bot will also help create the economies of scale necessary to lower the costs of developing the spider-bot.
1st Generation Spider-bot
The first generation spider-bot would not necessarily ever launch. The first prototyping spider-bot would likely be the “development” model. We could use the App model made famous by Apple, so that developers can work off of the “development” model to do mundane tasks in your home or any other cool thing that would provide incentives for developers to work on the spider-bot.
2nd Generation Spider-bot
By creating a market of development in the work that NASA is doing, we have a lot of infrastructure to work off of. We can use that work to create an inherently more flexible and robust spider-bot. Darwin had his fun with the 1st generation and the 2nd generation is that much better for it. Now this is going to be the version that will likely be ready for prime time.
Once the satellite/communications infrastructure is developed and the spider-bot development is advanced enough. Companies will find ways to leverage these technologies to open the market of space exploration. First, as stated previously they will send robots to mine for goods, or maybe it will just be a company that caters to giving “the space experience” to enthusiasts on earth. Then eventually the technology will develop enough so that I or you can log on to our computers to control our own robot so that we can make it do what we want it to do. (I am an optimist, I know, but that is cool!)