Scientists invent 'spiderbots' that talk amongst themselves inside active volcano

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London, August 11 (ANI): NASA scientists have developed a network of volcano sensors known as 'spiderbots' that can automatically communicate with each other, and placed them inside Mount St Helens in the US.

Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano located in Skamania County, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.

According to a report in New Scientist, fifteen spiderbots, so-named because of the three spindly arms protruding from their suitcase-sized steel bodies, were lowered from a helicopter to spots inside the crater and around the rim of Mount St Helens, an active volcano in the US state of Washington, in July.

Each has a seismometer for detecting earthquakes, an infrared sensor to detect heat from volcanic explosions, a sensor to detect ash clouds, and a global positioning system to sense the ground bulging and pinpoint the exact location of seismic activity.

Once in place, the bots reached out to each other to form what is known as a mesh network.

"It's similar to the internet," said Steve Chien, the principal scientist for autonomous systems at JPL. "You just lay them out, and they figure out the best way to route the data," he added.

The spiderbots are flexible and inexpensive enough that they can be set down almost anywhere.

"You can imagine just dropping these out of a helicopter, and they'll just land like spikes in the ground and do their thing," Chien said.

The spider web's unique networking capabilities also give it a distinct advantage over other monitoring systems.

The network is self-healing - if one node dies, the others automatically route data around it.

The scientists added this innovation after several early models were boiled, crushed or knocked over in the volcano's 2004 eruption. They also made the hardware more resilient.

"These are much more rugged," said Rick LaHusen of the US Geological Survey. "They can take an impact and keep on working," he added.

It is also the first of its kind to communicate with a satellite.

The network can call the satellite to take pictures if it senses an unusual tremor, or the satellite can ask the network to focus its attention on a particular spot if it sees an anomalous heat source.

"There's an autonomous interaction between the ground and the space systems - no people are needed," said LaHusen.

The self-organising, self-healing, remotely controllable network would be essential for using similar robots on other planets or their moons, where scientists can't carefully place each sensor or replace one if it breaks. (ANI)

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