A major challenge when it comes to using robots to explore other planets is keeping them operating when there’s no way to repair them from Earth. Researchers at the GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania have conducted what they call very preliminary work on robots made from ice that can repair themselves. The team, including Devin Carroll and Mark Yim, note they have only begun exploring the possibility of making robots from ice.
Building robots from ice is a serious challenge, but scientists believe ice exists on most planets, making it an abundant building material. Some things can’t be created from ice, such as batteries and electronic components. One big benefit of using ice for structural components of robots is that it’s easily modified using heat, and it can be cut and sculpted.
Ice can also be easily attached to itself. The paper written by the researchers looks at multiple ways of manufacturing robotic structural components from ice using additive and subtractive manufacturing processes. The research aims to demonstrate concepts for robots able to self-reconfigure, self-replicate, and self-repair.
One discovery made by the team on the subject so far is that the most energy-efficient and effective method of creating robot components from ice is simply using a drill. One potential challenge is figuring out what to do with shavings and wastewater during the carving process to prevent discarded material from refreezing in a location where it’s not wanted.
A proof of concept was created known as IceBot envisioned for Antarctic exploration weighing 6.3 kilograms. The robot was created by hand and was used to show that it could move in the environment without immediately falling to pieces at room temperature. The scientists say there is a lot of research left to do before they can create a robot that can reconfigure itself, replicate, or repair itself.