AI has been slowly becoming more prevalent in the workforce. This has serious implications for everyone around the world and particularly in the US but there can be some major benefits. AI can have the capability to do jobs that are too dangerous and one of those jobs is as an explorer. In 2021 that will become a reality as AI will be incorporated into a drone and sent to Mars to explore the Red Planet.


At the end of March the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced that it has completed testing for a helicopter drone (dubbed the Marscopter) that will be sent to Mars as part of the Mars 2020 mission. It is intended that the drone will help to speed up exploration to find noteworthy sites for investigation with the rover and to provide better information to map potential routes for the rover to take.

The Marscopter

The drone weighs about 4 pounds and runs off of solar cells and batteries. It has an internal heater to help it deal with nights on Mars, during which the temperature can reach as low as -130°. It was tested inside of JPL’s Space Simulator which allowed them to create similar atmospheric conditions to Mars, which had only ⅓ of Earth’s gravity and only a small amount of air which is mostly carbon dioxide. 2 test flights were conducted and the drone got 2 inches off of the ground, which was deemed a success. The next time it flies will be on Mars.

Not quite like the drone we have at Nicely Done Sites!

AI is Necessary

AI will be a necessary inclusion for this project. To have a human control the drone would be all but impossible owing to the 20 minutes it takes to send a command from Earth and receive it on Mars. AI will be responsible for all piloting operations like taking off and landing.

The Mars 2020 mission is expected to arrive on Mars in February 2021. The rover will conduct geological tests around the landing area to determine the habitability of the environment and determine its suitability for life, either past or present. It will collect samples to be stored for a potential return to Earth on a future mission. We’ve come a long way since Viking 1 in 1976.

AI Making Exploration More Efficient

Current rovers do have an aerial imaging to guide their human hands but it is from orbit. A drone will allow for an up close look at potential terrain obstacles so that mission control can adjust or alter the future path, hopefully avoiding the mishap that happened to the Spirit rover in 2009 when it became stuck in soft soil and was not able to be freed. A drone will also allow for better scouting to find targets for scientific work and make the rover’s mission more efficient.

Also included with the mission will be several small robotic machines that will assist the Marscopter. These machines, which will also be controlled by AI, will be able to walk on the surface and gather further information.

AI has now been given the task of cosmic exploration. Will this mission be one small step for technology and one giant leap for AI? It certainly could be and this provides a major step forward in preparing mankind for its first steps on Mars. But by the time a human makes that first step robots will have already gone where no man has gone before.

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