Mars, the red planet, has always been a kind of "Holy Grail" for scientists. But how can we delve into its deepest secrets without getting bogged down in the Martian sands? Maybe the Borebots can do it. Imagine a small robot, similar to a cylinder colored red and blue, which makes its way with its drills in the Martian soil like a curious mouse.
These little mechanical explorers could be the key to unlocking the mysteries that Mars has jealously guarded for billions of years.
The birth of the Borebots
The engineers of Planet Enterprises, a Washington-based space technology incubator, have unveiled a revolutionary concept for autonomous drills (find it here the report of the launch). Borebots are not the usual robots we see in sci-fi movies. They're small, self-contained, and designed to do one thing: dig deep into the Martian soil.
We have all pointed our telescopes at places like the south pole of Mars, hoping to learn more about its ancient water reserves and potential for life, but it's not enough just to look at the surface.
And here the Borebots could really change the rules of the game. With the ability to reach unprecedented depths of around 50 meters, these robotic drillers could help us unravel even more of the red planet's hidden mysteries.
How do robot drillers work?
Traditionally, deep drilling requires complex and expensive anchoring systems. But the Planet Enterprises team thought outside the box.
Autonomous bots are able to operate independently, without the need for wires. Just over a meter long, in just 64 millimeters in diameter they house a series of self-contained components including a battery, a drill bit, a motor and an electronic system.
Rover and Borebots, marriage of interest
Imagine rovers like the Perseverance, currently exploring on Mars, or quadrupedal robots like Spot by Boston Dynamics, and deploy these Borebots. By extending a distribution tube, the rover sends a bot to the surface, kickstarting the drilling process. And since these drills depend on battery power, their ability to dig through the Martian regolith puts an emphasis on power.
With this cycling system, the fleet of Borebots could maintain a continuous digging pace, eliminating the need for cumbersome support machinery. What if challenges arise? The engineering team has already been thinking about solutions, such as using "power bank" Borebots to power the active ones and introducing articulating joints for branch drilling.
When will we see these robot drillers at work?
While the progression of the project remains uncertain, the engineers at Planet Enterprises they are not discouraged.
Their pioneering work continues, and perhaps we may see these drills in action in the next few years. Maybe not for ESA's Mars Life Explorer mission (to search for signs of past or present life by sending a rover and lander to Mars around 2028), but for the next decade.