April 19, 2012
Robots Required In Hunt For ET
A Penn State engineer suggests that finding and identifying extraterrestrial life may require a big leap in robotics.
John D. Mathews, professor of electrical engineering, wrote in the current issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society that if there are aliens out there, they may not be eager to meet humans.
He said that only by developing self-replicating robotic spacecraft would the human race be capable of efficiently exploring the vastness of the universe.
"If they are like us, they too have a dysfunctional government and all the other problems plaguing us," Mathews said in a press release. "They won't want to spend a lot to communicate with us."
He said that intelligent extraterrestrial life would need to follow a similar process as humans, by sending robots to other places in the universe rather than human beings.
Matthews suggests that robots could go where many people do not want to go, and do what many do not want to do when searching for life beyond Earth.
He thinks the initial robots should be manufactured on the Moon to take advantage of the resources and the one-sixth gravity.
He said we have the technology to create these exobots now, except for a compact power source. In order to create a network of autonomous robots capable of passing information to each other and back to Earth, the vehicles must be able to identify their exact location and determine the time.
"The expensive part of launching anything is escaping the surface of Earth and its gravity well," Mathews said in a press release. "It would also be easier to target the space debris in near Earth orbit and in geosynchronous orbit and even recycle it."
The exobots would serve two purposes to mankind, one of which being to clear existing debris and monitor space junk, and help monitor the 1,200 near-Earth asteroids.
"As a first step, we really should launch robot vehicles to learn something about these asteroids and to place beacons on them for identification and tracking," said Mathews.
The network of exobots will ultimately spread throughout the solar system and into the galaxy, communicating with infrared lasers .
"Our assumption in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is that ET wants to be found," said Mathews. "But who has energy resources to spend trying to wave their metaphorical hand across the galaxy?"
He believes it is more likely that an exobot sent by human beings would intercept a signal from an alien race, as opposed to projects like SETI, which uses extremely directional signals.