The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is thinking about sending windbots to space to investigate the atmospheres of gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. These two planets are harder to explore compared to Mars because of the lack of a land surface.
However, the scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA are determined to push through with their investigations that they are now mulling about the use of polyhedron drones to fly through the clouds of the said planets.
The researchers have already began their studies as funded by the NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. The windbot is an emerging type of robot probe that is made to stay afloat in the atmosphere for long periods of time, even in the absence of features such as wings or hot-air balloons. Further research is ongoing regarding the mechanisms that can help these devices to obtain needed energy and continuously float.
The researchers thought of a way that can help the drones harvest ample amounts of energy while floating in the atmosphere. As they began their analysis, turbulence surfaced as the excellent option. Turbulence refers to the wind that is often changing direction and intensity. High speed wind is not sufficient to maintain the drones though, so the scientists said variability is of utmost essentiality. Subjecting the windbots in a turbulent setting that fluctuates from low to high energy can be of great benefit.
"A dandelion seed is great at staying airborne. It rotates as it falls, creating lift, which allows it to stay afloat for long time, carried by the wind," said Adrian Stoica, lead investigator for the windbots study at JPL. This comparison made by Stoica is a good example of mechanism that can be drawn from nature. According to him, testings of future windbot designs will definitely involve testing these factors.
The models of windbots will undergo rigorous series of testings, particularly those that involve controlled turbulent airflows to identify the best designs that can help the drones react and work in the most efficient manner. Next stages of the study will involve testing electronic sensors to help the windbots detect the field of wind around it.
The proposed windbots are not all cool and glorious; negative characteristics may also be noted. One of the main setbacks is the possibility of sacrificing wider areas of study to conserve energy from the winds. On some events, energy may be adequate and target destinations may be explored through a more stable path.
There are so much more to learn and investigate about the windbots but the researchers are staying optimistic. The concept is not yet recognized to be fully feasible, admits Stoica. Nonetheless, he boasts that that reality fuels his team to conduct further studies to explore the unknown, which he believes is a valuable trait.