NASA's Venus Rover Concept Resembles a Clockwork Computer Tank

Monday, 28 August 2017 - 7:38PM
Technology
NASA
Solar System
Monday, 28 August 2017 - 7:38PM
NASA's Venus Rover Concept Resembles a Clockwork Computer Tank
NASA/JPL-Caltech
The problem with exploring the planet Venus is that the planet's environment is pretty horrific. Once upon a time, the planet was covered in huge seas of water that made it look similar to our own home, but millennia of electrical winds have cause the seas to dissipate, the molecules to split apart, and the water to be lost into space.

In its place is a planetary surface that's around 860 degrees Fahrenheit, which still suffers from 10 volt electrical winds. Basically, lick a battery while in furnace, and you'll have a tiny taste of what it's like to be on Venus (please don't actually do that).

Naturally, this means that unlike on Mars, where rovers can be delicate and nuanced, equipped with a series of high tech gadgets, a Venusian rover needs to be the Mad Max of interplanetary travel - hence why the new "clockwork" rover that NASA's been putting together looks like something out of Mad Max: Fury Road, minus the spikes.

The Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE) is purely function over style - its symmetrical treads are designed to keep running for as long as possible on the planet's surface, while every available scrap of space is taken up with big solar panels to keep the thing alive. There's also a wind turbine within the rover, because if you're dealing with electrical winds that can strip the water from the air, it makes sense to try and channel that as a power source.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

In order to meet this rover's specific needs, NASA's engineers deliberately based the AREE's functionality around clockwork computers and tanks from World War I, and it really shows in this brutally efficient design that's intended to keep the rover running for as long as possible, no matter what hellish environment it's placed in.

The clockwork computational power of this thing is really something - it hearkens back to the kinds of mechanical computers that existed in the Victorial era, long before electrical systems won out as the more popular approach to this emerging technology. This is necessary to keep the rover literally ticking while it's constantly being zapped by Venus' electrical winds.

According to Jonathan Sauder, who initially proposed the AREE's basic design:

Opening quote
"Venus is too inhospitable for kind of complex control systems you have on a Mars rover. But with a fully mechanical rover, you might be able to survive as long as a year."
Closing quote


If this thing can endure a full year on Venus, that'll be really impressive - the last rover to actually endure any time on the planet's surface managed only a few hours. That device was a Soviet creation from thirty years ago, and consisted of several balloons, so it's no wonder it didn't quite make the grade on the planet's inhospitable surface (although the idea has been revisited in a new form in recent years).

It looks like there's still a lot of work to do before the AREE is ready to try and conquer Venus, but if it does survive, here's hoping there isn't any native life on the planet for it to bump into. If the first thing Venusians see from our society is essentially a tiny, angry-looking tank, it's not going to be great for interplanetary relations.
Science
Science News
Technology
NASA
Solar System
No