With the rise of artificial intelligence and improved material and sensors, a new generation of super tough drones are being built by teams from all around the world that are going to places where human can’t. From Arctic wastes to fiery volcanoes, ocean depths to distant planets, no place is out of reach for these drones.
The Royal Research Ship (RSS) David Attenborough will be carrying within it an autonomous flying and submersible vehicles designed to lay bare the mysteries of the polar region. One underwater drone named Boaty McBoatface is designed to dive to 6000m (19,700 ft) where the pressure is about 600 times greater than at sea level. Less rugged vehicles would be crushed completely at those depths.
Arctic sub-sea conditions are pretty tough, but the surface of planet Mars is even tougher, bringing with it a whole new set of designs.
Two devices being developed by NASA to survey the volcanoes of Mars are currently being trialled on Earth. Lemur – short for Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot – is a four-limbed machine that can scale rock walls, gripping with hundreds of tiny hooks in each of its 16 fingers.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan has developed a team of automated firefighting robots designed to cope with extreme heat. Equipped with GPS and laser sensors to help navigate to the scene of the fire.
Robotics expert Prof Barry Lennox says, “Over the next five to 10 years I would expect to see even more complex environments being explored”.
Whatever be the pace of development of such drones, one thing is clear that humans will have lesser and lesser roles in high risk jobs. AI along with more advanced materials will enable a new era of exploration that will increase the reach of mankind and lead to new discoveries.